Hanna Saleh

Crimes Without Punishment… In Lebanon’s Autumn

As the collapse in Lebanon expands, it is becoming increasingly apparent that so long as the August 4 clique is in power, there is no floor for how low the Lira could fall. With it, citizens’ ability to survive plummets too. A frightening number of patients are unable to access the medicine and treatment they need. Students are being forced out of school. Youths and skilled workers are leaving in droves, and begging has become generalized! It seems that Lebanon’s spoil-sharing regime is faced with a surreal scene: two judiciaries are in conflict; one is from outside the country and seeks to bring those guilty of financial crimes to justice, and the other is domestic and is trying to hinder the families of the victims of the blast from achieving justice.

The first thing the banking cartel did was tame the judiciary, which exempted itself from prosecuting those who had committed financial crimes: from embezzlement of public money to robbing the deposits of one and a half million citizens. Then, this cartel, the most prominent partner in the heist of the era, launched a relentless propaganda campaign to whitewash the image of the banks. This campaign told those whose deposits had been stolen: “the bank is with you,” “the banks are behind the economic growth and development.” They openly bribe television broadcasters and anchors whose rhetoric exposes their funders… Worse still is that deputies are drafting laws to grant themselves immunity and ensure impunity.

The scenes from the courtroom were a farce. Bankers, protected by political, judicial and security officials, gambled with over $120 billion in bank deposits. They are being investigated by three European judicial delegations, who are looking into suspicions of money laundering and corruption that had taken place in Europe, with over $330 million allegedly embezzled from the Central Bank. The suspects include Riad Salameh, the Governor of the Central Bank, his brother Raja, and others. These suspicions have led to the freezing of large sums of money and real estate assets. The real face of the bankers was shown. It met the description of the World Bank, which asserted that they were part of the “elite” that had been behind the largest Ponzi scheme ever. It began in 1993, destroying a prestigious banking sector and accelerating the total collapse that sparked the “October 17” 2019 revolution!

In parallel, Lebanon witnessed an explosive development. Thirty months after the port blast that turned a third of the capital into rubble, killed 236 people, and injured 7 thousand (many of whom will never fully recover), the authorities decided to finish off the crime committed on August 4 by going after the victims’ families. It summoned them to court and launched investigations into anyone who opposed the attempts to bring down the investigation. Entering the Palace of Justice and demanding that justice be ensured for the Lebanese put a target on their back.

The Lebanese were waiting for those accused of the felony of “possible intent to murder” in relation to the port blast. Instead, some were elected parliamentary deputies! The “impunity law” allowed two of the men accused, Ali Hassan Khalil and Ghazi Zaiter, to hold positions in the Administration and Justice Committee in parliament.

The calls for investigating 12 of the victims’ families sent a message that people have read carefully. The victims, the port, and the capital will be killed a second time. The actions of the security and judicial apparatuses sparked massy fury. The indifference towards the crime of the era exposed the officials, who approached the calamity like it had taken place in another country- like another nation had been mass-exterminated! Meanwhile, the trauma of the moment that terrible explosion went off became ingrained in the minds of hundreds of thousands of Lebanese! They had been waiting for the resumption of the investigation that had been suspended since December 23 (December) 2021, months after the Hezbollah official Wafiq Safa stormed the Palace of Justice and threatened to “remove” Judicial Investigator Bitar. Then came the shock: the defendants are free and enjoying themselves, and the arrest of the murdered is what is now required!

Is it not dumbfounding that grave crimes have been committed with no accountability or punishment to speak of? Is the same not true of the investigations into the murders related to the port blast? What about the economic collapse that has sent the citizens of the country to hell, as promised? None of the accused stand behind bars despite the plunder that killed the future and the port blast that destroyed a third of the capital.

The crimes that altered the lives of the Lebanese will not be punished so long as the sectarian-based-quota spoil-sharing system that creates corruption and dependence remains. Only genuine change could allow the country’s institutions to get back on their feet and prevent Lebanon from prematurely withering away.

It is now the autumn of the coup against the constitution and the country’s subordination to the beneficiaries of its crises. They ruled arbitrarily, imposed sectarian quotas for ministries and institutions, hindered the independence of the judiciary, and disrupted the mechanisms of the political system.

Among all the revolutions of the past decade, only the October Revolution did not propose changing the constitution. Instead, it demanded that the constitution be implemented because its implementation would liberate the state whose decisions have been hijacked by Hezbollah. More than that, their proposals are in line with respecting the rest of the Taif Agreement, which includes unimplemented steps that pave the way for the establishment of the modern natural state to the farmlike state we have not!

We still have a long way to go on this journey, but the proposals for change that have been put forward by the October forces are significant because the political class intends to rehabilitate the spoil-sharing regime and redistribute its shares. The post-Taif experience, the shameful presidential settlement, and the actions that have been taken since the revolution erupted three years ago all present indication after indication that the “opposition” in this regime is “loyal” to it. The entire August 4 clique is united in its opposition to renewal and openness.

They are all keen on maintaining “immunities” and “impunities.” Their priority is safeguarding their narrow interests and gains at the expense of the interests of the country and the rights of its people. For all these reasons, changing things from within is impossible, and any form of participation leads to catastrophic consequences. They are all partners in the most dangerous project for Lebanon: the religious state Hezbollah is working to achieve! It will never succeed, but it is a dangerous form of blackmail that threatens sectarian strife and leaves the country open to all sorts of interferences!

Only change can save the country, but matters will not be resolved easily. Liberating the hijacked state is more important than the pressing question of who is elected president. Otherwise, the presidency loses its stature.

The despotic ruling class was not able to extinguish the flame of the October revolution. It remains because of the protection of Hezbollah, and it will not leave the arena to factions capable of taking measures to contain the collapse and ensure accountability for those who have brought the country to its knees. What is needed is an alternative financial structure that replaces that which has humiliated and divided us!

This is the ultimate building block. We need to crystalize the organizational and structural conditions needed during this period. Many have rallied around the slogan of a “historical bloc” that cuts across regions and sects as the revolution had done. This bloc can lift the country and achieve the revolution’s goals, as well as bring about a political alternative that leads us into the transition phase, which may be long or short, depending on the state of affairs in the country!