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

2021 Lebanon Is Not 1989 Lebanon

2021 Lebanon Is Not 1989 Lebanon

Sunday, 21 November, 2021 - 09:30

In their search for a way out that ameliorates residents’ current conditions, many Lebanese have leaned towards comparing their bitter reality with what they endured in the 1980s. Few of them are “optimistic” about the prospect of the disastrous state of affairs ending in the way it had at the time. However, given the massive differences between the two junctures, the tendency to rule out this comparison prevails.

True, the 1980s witnessed an economic collapse that hit the national currency particularly hard. It also saw the state contract and its authority diminish, and the army continued to splinter, a process that had begun in the 1970s. What had been established during the “Two Years War” (1975-1976) was crowned early on in the following decade, with the thunderous 1982 Israeli invasion that preceded the eruption of the wars of the mountain, the southern suburbs, Beirut and Tripoli, which were followed by the war between the Shiites and the Palestinians, the “War of the Camps,” and the intra-Christian and intra-Shiite wars...

However, it is also true that the damage that the country's educational, financial, health and service-providing institutions incurred at the time by - while they were not minor - cannot be compared with the damages threatening their total closure today. Is there a need to bring up what happened at the Beirut port or provide an overview of the situation banks, universities, hospitals and other institutions find themselves in?

Moreover, it seemed that prospects were on the horizon in the 1980s: regardless of one’s position on [Rafik] Hariri and his reconstruction and development policies, the fact remains that he drowned the market with funds that he invested and borrowed, creating, at least in the capital, an immense number of projects and job opportunities. No similar prospect seems to be on the cards today, nor does a regional and international consensus on “saving Lebanon” like that which emerged around Hariri. Our Arab neighbors and the West, with minor exceptions, do not seem concerned in light of Hezbollah’s hegemonic position.

Furthermore, “Hariri’s remedy” was accompanied by the return of new Lebanese capitalists who wanted to turn into politicians and had made their fortunes abroad during the war. Added to them was the influx of youths who had studied abroad and had been waiting for an opportunity to return to Lebanon and work there.

None of this applies to today.

For its part, the regional situation has also changed drastically. The Lebanese civil war’s resolution, which was framed by the Taif Accords of 1989, came within the broader context of US-Syrian rapprochement in tandem with Syria taking part in the war to liberate Kuwait. Then, less than two years after the Taif Accords, the Madrid Peace Conference, which Syria also took part in, was held. Only two years after that, in 1993, the Palestinian- Israeli Oslo Agreement, on which much hope had been pinned, was concluded. In 1994, the Wadi Araba Treaty between Jordan and Israel complemented what appeared to be a climate in which breakthroughs were being made across the region.

Today, all of that is part of a dead and buried past. Lebanon is linked, through Hezbollah’s mediation, to the regional tensions that could erupt into a confrontation between Iran and Israel at any moment, one that has, if it were to break out, the capacity to destroy everything that remains of the country. There is no side, domestic or foreign, that can control this catastrophic link, undermine it or contain it.

The entire regime is facing worrying existential scenarios. Lebanon, seen through this lens, is nothing more than part of a depressing portrait that includes Syria, Iraq and Palestine.

Added to the reasons for today’s pessimism is the collapse of the October Revolution. The fact that the major reason for its collapse was Hezbollah deterring the Shiites from taking part in it, brings us to this bitter truth: the perpetuation of the existing worn-out system is difficult, but changing it is infinitely more difficult.

In the meantime, sectarian sentiments hateful of the other grew, fueled by all perseverance and determination available to them. Even within the “ruling coalition,” so to speak, establishing any form of cross-sectarian alignment seems an arduous task: it suffices, on the other hand, to recall that the Rafik Hariri-Hezbollah settlement, or what was called the “reconstruction-resistance duo,” enabled such an alignment to survive from 1989 till 2005, when Hariri was taken out of the picture.

Another issue is that the current crisis has not yet taken its final form. The worst is always expected, in terms of the future of the economy, living conditions and the security situation, a deterioration accelerated by the potential for an Iranian-Israeli war.

The remedies being proposed, from the IMF and international organizations to the parliamentary elections, seem faltering and crippled. They take one step forward before taking two steps backward. As for the crises, be they economic, political or social, they are proliferating by the day.

Time and its lessons, of course, also play a role. That is, the first experience’s failure induces a sense of despair in those thinking of trying again, though many of the impediments seen during the latter era emerged from the manner in which the former had been resolved.

The year 2021 is different from 1989, which provided us with years of a cold peace. Today, patchwork is the best case scenario, patchwork that needs to be inspected and revised hour by hour.

Other opinion articles

Editor Picks