TEHRAN – A professor of political science at the Lebanese University believes that the solutions to Lebanon’s economic problems must be political in the first place before any economic decision.
“The solution must be political in the first place, and after the political solution, we can talk about the economic solution,” Laure Abi-Khalil told the Tehran Times.
“The political economy in Lebanon allows ruling elites to monopolize wealth at the expense of the majority, which has led to the destruction of the state,” adds Abi-Khalil.
The Lebanese political scientist also said: “The (Persian) Gulf states should lift the boycott and the Western powers should also lift the financial sanctions against Lebanon, then we can talk about internal solutions.
Here is the text of the interview:
Q: What are the main reasons for the miserable economic situation in Lebanon?
A: There are internal reasons and external reasons. The internal reasons are due to the domestic economic policies that Prime Minister Rafic Hariri adopted in the 1990s when he implemented monetary policies that abolished production as the service sector was prioritized over the manufacturing sector.
Of course, this policy has led to the so-called bankruptcy phase of the Lebanese people, since the economy cannot be based on services without production and productive policies in the field of agriculture and industry.
“Sectarianism affects all aspects of life in Lebanon.The second reason is endemic corruption in public institutions and the state. Of course, there are studies and reports that indicate that approximately fifty billion dollars were looted from the public treasury, and it is not yet clear how they were spent.
The Lebanese President called for a criminal audit because the political class rejected this case and they do not want a criminal audit, but rather manipulate the value of the dollar and the fate of the Lebanese people in order to hide their corruption.
Of course they call for amnesty for financial crimes, because after the Lebanese civil war in 1990 came the Taif agreement, then general amnesty when it comes to all kinds of war crimes, rather than responsibility; it was a prelude to the establishment of selective justice in the country. These political leaders who were warlords, are now asking for a general amnesty for their financial crimes.
The third factor, also internal, is the smuggling of subsidized foodstuffs to other countries from Lebanon.
Of course, this problem is due to the culture of corruption among traders in Lebanon, who do not care about the future of the Lebanese people. All of these things are for internal reasons.
With regard to external causes, we have witnessed a US maneuver aimed at putting pressure on the Lebanese economy and its banking system under the pretext of Hezbollah’s relations with Iran.
This policy led to the suspension of foreign transfers and also hampered relations with the Lebanese banking sector through the imposition of sanctions on this system.
We do not forget that there are external pressures linked to the demarcation of borders and the gas wealth of Lebanon, which the Israeli enemy seeks to control in a tortuous way through Western countries and complicated agendas. It is also a major factor in the collapse of the Lebanese economy.
Q: How has sectarianism affected the development process in Lebanon?
A: Of course, the concept of consensus democracy, which is used in the Lebanese model, consolidates sectarian identities, which have increased and institutionalized social inequalities.
Sectarianism affects all aspects of life in Lebanon, including marriage, social relations, political representation, judicial appointments, recruitment of people in public administrations, etc.
“The government establishment in Lebanon is worn out and there have been no appointments based on the principle of competence for more than thirty years.”All of these are included in the practice of so-called nepotism, while consensual democracy activates the role of sectarian parties.
Political leaders provide services to their social base to gain the support of citizens, so these leaders help their sect members to get jobs and here I am talking about “cult kings” who are ready to practice all kinds of corruption to protect their position or social base.
I can say that consensus democracy paralyzes the nation-building process, which can hinder the process of adopting policies that serve the public interest. Of course, these policies that are set by governments depend on what cult leaders want in order to serve the interests of the cults and regions they represent.
There are no restrictions on arresting cult leaders, so they are free to engage in corruption to achieve their desired goals in order to maintain their presence in power.
Q: Don’t you think that Lebanon suffers from a lack of belonging to the homeland?
A: In Lebanon, there is no strong sense of belonging to the homeland. For example, the Lebanese ruling class and politicians have neglected the formal education system, whether in public schools or in Lebanese universities, which has significantly affected the level of social advancement, increasing inequality rates to long term.
In Lebanon, spending on education is very low compared to other countries in the world.
I can say that the political economy in Lebanon allows the ruling elites to monopolize wealth at the expense of the majority, which has led to the destruction of the state. Thus, the solution must be political in the first place, and after the political solution, we can speak of the economic solution.
Of course, the solution comes from outside; The (Persian) Gulf States should lift the boycott and the Western powers should also lift the financial sanctions against Lebanon, then we can talk about internal solutions.
Q: You highlighted the role of foreign countries in expected economic relief for Lebanon. Could you tell us how foreign states have helped entrench corruption in Lebanon?
A: Of course, the key to the solution lies abroad, and any settlement in the region will push the Lebanese parties towards reconciliation.
The key to the solution in the first place is a regional settlement that includes Syria, Iran, America and Turkey, after which there must be an international contribution that helps Lebanon financially. I’m talking about the International Monetary Fund and donor countries demanding economic reform.
Political authority must approve the scrutiny process, and there should be no bargaining to cut deals between corrupt leaders at the expense of the Lebanese people.
The role of some Gulf (Persian) states is important in terms of abandoning their interference to help stability in Lebanon.
The Taif agreement must be implemented, in particular the abolition of political sectarianism, the election of a parliament without sectarian identity and the construction of a civil state which abolishes the role of sectarian leaders and authorities.
The current economic situation in Lebanon contributes to increasing corruption indicators due to the existing poverty and relative deprivation, while the way out of the crisis becomes more and more difficult over time.
There must be a regional and international understanding that is reflected positively in the Lebanese political scene, especially when it comes to finding solutions that help the establishment of productive economic projects.
Q: Do you think the government establishment in Lebanon with its current structure is capable of solving the problems facing the country?
The government establishment in Lebanon is worn out and there have been no appointments based on the principle of competence and merit for more than thirty years.
Not all government employees have passed the Civil Service Council examinations to enter the civil service. Employment in public administrations and public institutions is based on nepotism and the relationship of individuals to sect leaders.
According to this concept, one cannot say expect the government or public institutions to solve the problems because each employee is affiliated with his sect leader and works according to the dictates of the sect leader.
To get out of this crisis, we must begin to restructure the services and institutions of the State, keep the employee who has competence and merit, and find work for the employee who does not have competence.