Reading three key headlines on Lebanon at a glance gives you an understanding of where the country stands and who is really in charge. The first concerned the visit this week by a Hamas delegation, which concluded with a press briefing thanking President Michel Aoun for his support for the Palestinian people and declaring that the Palestinian camps were a factor in the stability of the country. The second was the arrest by Hezbollah of two foreign journalists covering the fuel crisis in Lebanon. And the third was the leader of the Hezbollah parliamentary group, Mohammed Raad, criticizing “those who continue to argue as the queues stretch out in front of gas stations, hospitals”.
This is exactly why I have warned against voices within the opposition who have downgraded their criticism or demand for the elimination of the “corrupt political elite” or what they call “The mafia in power”. This is simply because they have, as we can now clearly see, argue for Hezbollah’s own narrative and shield the group from liability. Indeed, for Hezbollah, the resistance and its people – as they call themselves – are above these petty quarrels between greedy politicians. However, in their narrative, they ignore the fact that they are the real cause of the stalemate, as they have set up the political landscape in a way that gives them oversight and control over the affairs of state. without being responsible for the decisions taken.
Since we can easily tie the country’s situation to regional affairs, Hezbollah will not budge while Iran renegotiates the nuclear deal in the Joint Comprehensive Plan of Action. Tehran sees the geopolitical balance evolving to its advantage in the coming year. Therefore, the suggestion to impose sanctions on Lebanese politicians when Hezbollah will soon benefit from the lifting of sanctions against Iran will not change much to the political and economic situation in Lebanon. This is something that should be done to punish them for their nefarious role, but we should not expect this to change anything.
There is, however, a sad truth about the current situation; one that won’t make people happy when it is said. We mainly describe the Lebanese as good and helpful people, and it is true. But when we describe the current situation, we describe them as innocent victims who did nothing to deserve such punishment. But is it the truth? Are the Lebanese innocent or are they part of this corruption?
I’ll start by responding with one of the main crises facing the country, which is the collapse of the banking system and the evaporation of people’s deposits. Many years ago, I remember warning a Lebanese friend of the risks of these high yield accounts, as it was clear that most of the borrowing was going to the Lebanese state, which would ultimately be unable to pay off his debt for obvious reasons. He ignored my comments. And so, as we recently discussed the terrible situation, I couldn’t help but tell him that agreeing to deposit his hard-earned money for high interest rates that were not available anywhere else in the world was more like taking a bribe than being trapped in a Ponzi scheme. Most Lebanese knew this from the start and expected the international community to bail out the state (and them) at some point.
If we continue on the route of the Banque du Liban, another small indication is Circular 331, which was established in 2013 to strengthen the ecosystem of startups in the country. I think many would be surprised if a forensic audit were done into the processes and funding allocations and partnerships created for these investments. This would show that the Lebanese middle and upper classes were complicit in what they now call the political mafia. In fact, very few have chosen to resist and oppose it. Those who do not live in Lebanon.
The point is that this ruling clan structure – which has been exploited by the occupying forces – offers protection to its people and is reassuring. The Lebanese have lived with it for generations. In Lebanon, you can probably get away with any crime if you have the right protection, just because your political leader can compensate for it in negotiations with other leaders and bypass the justice system. I don’t know if Carlos Ghosn or Ziad Takieddine are innocent or guilty, but the fact that they are able to evade international justice in Lebanon is an indication of how things are working in the country.
We can trace this thought process back to the way elections are conducted and to the buying of votes by various candidates. When I was once discussing with a friend the lack of political vision and the role of Hezbollah in the elections, he bluntly stopped me by saying, “In the elections in Lebanon, you have a lira, you are worth a lira. In other words, corruption is part of the political system. In this sense, I am convinced that the politicians who are preparing for the legislative elections next year are quite satisfied to be able to buy their votes for much less than in the last elections due to the devaluation of the Lebanese currency. . This was also true during the Syrian occupation, and it continued with Hezbollah.
We must recognize this if we are to bring real and positive change to the country. The political structure allows compromises and compromises between faith groups to the detriment of the rule of law. The reality is that we must break this system, which is constantly and ruthlessly used and abused by the occupying forces. The only solution I see for Lebanon is a decentralized political system, if not a complete evolution towards a federation. There are signs of hope, such as the victory this week of independent opposition groups in the elections to the College of Engineers and Architects, as well as in the student elections and the lawyers’ union. We need these voices to defend the right agenda, which is structural change.
Whether we want to recognize it or not, we are still tribes. We’re still stuck with blood and dirt. The formation of a government to unblock international aid will only be a palliative solution which will cost the Lebanese people even more and will plunge the country into more debt and more uncertainty. So the only way to save the country is to break the capacity of the occupying forces to sow fear and strengthen a system of interfaith compromise. We urgently need to empower regions and municipalities at all levels, including legislative, judicial and executive. Lebanon cannot and never will change until a decentralized political system is put in place. It is time to recognize our own wrongs and wrongs to prevent the occupying forces from using the country to hide in plain sight.
• Khaled Abou Zahr is CEO of Eurabia, a media and technology company. He is also the editor-in-chief of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.
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