Wednesday, October 27e, the Lebanese leader of the Lebanese Christian Front (LF) Samir Geagea did not appear before an investigation by the army’s secret services into the attack of 14 Octobere street clash in Beirut, as crowds of LF supporters blocked access to his home. Geagea and the FL deny responsibility for the killings, which left seven dead, instead accusing the Shiite militant group Hezbollah and its allies Amal of provoking the violence. In addition, the LF tried to hijack its role in the explosion of the port of Beirut in 2020. That day, Hezbollah and Amal were protesting against the investigation by Judge Tarek Bitar, who is in charge of the investigation into government officials responsible for the explosion since February, claiming Bitar was biased against them, although no member of Hezbollah has yet been implicated. Hezbollah leader Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah has denounced the investigation and the killings as dangerous provocations against Hezbollah, implicitly threatening that he has 100,000 fighters to call on.
Many Lebanese fear rising tensions and the return of violence to the streets of Beirut: the same neighborhood where the 1975-1990 civil war began. Along with fear, there is also deep frustration with Lebanon’s political leadership. The past few weeks of unrest have highlighted why many Lebanese are so unhappy. The Lebanese political establishment has once again proved intransigent, corrupt, and far too willing to respond to sectarian forces by refusing to comply with Judge Bitar’s popularly-supported investigation or resist threats of violence from Hezbollah. Their neglect, which has already done nothing in response to the 2020 explosion or Lebanon’s economic spiral, could very well lead to yet another brutal civil war for a country that has already been ravaged by decades of civil war. .
At the heart of this crisis is a political class that cannot be held accountable despite growing evidence of corruption, abuse of power and powerlessness in the face of critical political issues. According to the World Bank, Lebanon’s GDP contracted by 20.3% in 2020 alone, from $ 55 billion in 2018 to $ 33 billion in 2020. Surprisingly, this was before the start of COVID. -19 and the millions of dollars in damage caused by the Port of Beirut. explosion. Moreover, in 2020, the Lebanese pound exchange rate depreciated by 129%, causing inflation to spike by 84.3% on average this year. The World Bank estimates that 70% of Lebanon has plunged into poverty.
This economic disaster was not unintentional. The World Bank called the crisis a “deliberate depression” in December 2020, and in June of this year blamed “continued political inaction and the lack of a fully functioning executive authority,” and that “the leadership responses Lebanese to these challenges were very insufficient. This insufficiency is âless due to gaps in knowledge and good adviceâ, but rather because of âa lack of political consensus on effective policy initiativesâ and of a âpolitical consensus in favor of effective policy initiativesâ. bankrupt economic system, which has benefited a few for so long. âIn other words, Lebanon’s economic disaster was caused and exasperated by inefficient and corrupt politicians.
Lebanon has also long been divided by a sectarian political structure that encourages division and allows for a corrupt client system, allowing groups like Hezbollah to flourish. After the civil war, sectarian warlords were granted amnesties and became part of Lebanese politics. Now they are feeding off social conflicts that divide to maintain the status quo that allows them to cripple the state while they channel wealth and power into themselves. Hezbollah, the most powerful and dangerous sectarian group, was founded by Iranian-backed Shiite militias during the civil war, in response to the Israeli invasion of southern Lebanon. Hezbollah was allowed to remain armed, while all other groups were disarmed, due to their active resistance to Israel’s continued occupation. The group remained armed even after Israel’s withdrawal in 2000. Since then, Hezbollah has only extended its political and military power, creating what some call “a state within a state” by exercising growing influence over Lebanese politics through terror and threats against a Lebanese political class that offered little or no resistance.
Despite their failures, holding Lebanese politicians to account has proved impossible. Judge Bitar’s investigation into the Beirut explosion has been blocked at every turn by Lebanese politicians. They sue to delay the proceedings, refuse to appear in court and try to discredit Bitar. Bitar’s predecessor was removed from his post after two of the ministers he was indicting lodged a complaint. Many political leaders, including Hezbollah, have tried to do the same with Bitar. Nonetheless, his investigations are popular among Lebanese protesting for political responsibility since the explosion last year. As the PA reported, billboards installed in Beirut last month show a fist holding a hammer, saying “Only Tarek can take our revenge.”
There have been attempts inside Lebanon to hold politicians to account, such as Judge Bitar’s ongoing investigation, but they have always been hampered by political pressure. To this end, the role of the Lebanese judicial authorities must be strengthened and endowed with the authority and resources they need to eradicate corruption. Bitar is not the only Lebanese official trying to make a government more accountable. In an interview with the New York Times, Judge Georges Attieh of the Central Inspection Board spoke at length about the obstacles placed between him and his work to investigate irregularities in services and public funds, such as understaffing. and the denial of legal authority. Although trying to fight “30 years of accumulated corruption” is like “having[ing] small, small chipping tools [a] mountain â, he remains committed to finding ways to improve the system, advocating for the strengthening of the justice system as well as the implementation of digital public records to make fund exchanges more transparent.
For too long, Lebanese politicians have been able to use sectarian and confrontational rhetoric to foster discord among the many ethnic and religious groups in Lebanon. This fabricated division allowed them to retain power, although many Lebanese are increasingly finding common ground on many issues. The Lebanese political system, as the New York Times notes, maintains a rigid sectarian structure: the president must be Christian, the prime minister Sunni, and the speaker of the Shiite parliament. While it was meant to give every group a voice, it instead allowed cult leaders to deflect any criticism of them as criticism of their cult group. Lebanon’s highly cosmopolitan ethnic groups should be respected, but dividing them legally only creates more conflict that groups like Hezbollah use to stoke fear and prevent change. A system that takes into account ethnic divisions without entrenching them should be put in place to better focus on the issues that affect all Lebanese.
Fixing the government will not end Lebanon’s economic crisis overnight, nor will it change its long and bloody history of sectarian violence. It will not rebuild the terrible damage caused by the explosion at the Port of Beirut or prevent unforeseeable disasters like COVID-19. But it will give Lebanon a fair chance to face these problems head-on, with institutions supported and accountable to the Lebanese people. The aforementioned issues affect all Lebanese people, not just one ethnic or religious group. To begin to address the many problems that plague Lebanon is to target the very system that is actively preventing change. The political system of Lebanon must implement more accountability mechanisms while developing a more acute responsiveness to the substantial desire of the Lebanese people. To increase the achievement of these goals, the forces that have resisted change through corruption and inaction must be punished.
Thinking back to the 2019 protests, the fulmination of anger and frustration with the government made it clear that, despite the elite dividing policy, the Lebanese people have agreed that their system is harming everyone. As Lebanese journalist Baria Alamuddin wrote in an editorial for the Eurasian Review, âDuring the 2019 protests, the protesters united against the discredited Lebanese leaders in their entirety: Kullun yaani kullun! an Arabic expression used during protests meaning “all means all”. Alamuddin went on to say that “now is the time when Lebanese society as a whole must speak with one voice: reject bigotry and reject attempts by Hezbollah and other parties to push the nation into war.” There is a future for Lebanon beyond sectarian divisions, beyond political deadlock and beyond war and violence. It is a future for which a desire burns in the hearts of the Lebanese people, and it is within their reach to realize it.