Dyer: Politicians stubbornly refuse aid as founders of Lebanon


Off Lebanon, about 60 kilometers north of Beirut, a 104-meter battleship stands upright, its bow plunged 30 meters into the mud. The seabed is 140 meters deep, but technical divers can explore the stern.

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Off Lebanon, about 60 kilometers north of Beirut, a 104-meter battleship stands upright, its bow plunged 30 meters into the mud. The seabed is 140 meters deep, but technical divers can explore the stern. The ship is a bit like Lebanon, for reasons I will explain later.

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Five years ago, Lebanon still looked like a middle class country with many poor people. Now it looks like a very poor country with a few rich people. The proportion of people living below the official poverty line has increased from 30% two years ago to 80% today.

Even the 1975-90 civil war did less damage to the economy, despite the destruction of several hundred thousand lives and much of the country’s infrastructure. “Even during the civil war, there was money and no one was starving,” as one Beirut bus driver put it.

The roots of the current catastrophe are in this war. This has brought the Lebanese back to the relative safety of their own sectarian, Christian, Sunni Muslim, and Shia Muslim communities, and warlords have emerged to protect these communities,

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By the end of the war, they formed the new political and financial elite, with militias well paid to impose their will on their communities. They have become a corrupt and nepotist club whose members cooperate to appropriate the riches of the Lebanese state, even if they hate each other.

This system worked smoothly in the 2000s, but it was visibly falling apart in the 2010s. There simply wasn’t enough money to be shared among the elites (politely called the “political class”). Lebanon produces almost nothing, not even enough food for its people, and its imports are paid for with remittances, foreign aid and loans.

Not having enough money to support their huge patronage networks, the elites began to tax the poorest population more heavily, and in 2019 something broke. Suddenly the streets of Beirut were full of protesters demanding fundamental change.

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With Lebanon being a former French colony, French President Emmanuel Macron came by plane and offered the Lebanese government $ 11 billion in return for structural reforms to stamp out government corruption. But the elites who benefit from this system are the government, in practice, so they said no.

Then came the massive explosion last year in the Port of Beirut. The International Monetary Fund has offered Lebanon huge loans if the corrupt system is reformed, but the government is likely to refuse this offer as well. If stubborn selfishness were an Olympic event, the Lebanese political class would win gold.

He moves closer to the edge. Last Thursday, Hezbollah staged a mass protest in Beirut, demanding the impeachment of the judge leading the investigation to determine who was responsible for importing the 2,750 tons of fertilizer that caused the port explosion. from last year. (Hezbollah is one of the main candidates to blame.)

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When the march entered a Christian quarter, at least one sniper opened fire. Seven Shiites died and the mob (some armed) tried to storm Christian neighborhoods in retaliation. And yet the Lebanese political class refuses to bow.

So why does this political class resemble the captain of HMS Victoria, the late battleship that took a nosedive in 1893? Because the Commander of the British Mediterranean Fleet, Vice Admiral Sir George Tryon, was one of the most stubborn men in history.

He ordered a complex maneuver in which two parallel lines of battleships would make simultaneous U-turns towards each other, eventually going in the opposite direction, but with the parallel lines much closer together. And he got the wrong distance.

Everyone on deck could see the ships were going to collide, and several told Tryon about it, but he ignored their advice. The ship that was going to ram him also questioned his orders, but he persevered. So they collided, and the admiral sank with his ship.

Think of the Lebanese political class as Vice Admiral Tryon and the country as HMS Lebanon. Technical divers only.

Gwynne Dyer is a freelance journalist based in London, England.

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