Between the ongoing tragedy of the COVID pandemic and rising tensions in Eastern Europe and the South China Sea, it’s no surprise that little Lebanon and its terrible suffering are often overlooked. But world leaders must not be fooled: the fate of more than just a small nation is at stake. What happens in Lebanon could have dire consequences for everyone.
Last week, I gave an interview for the Arab News program “Frankly”, where I discussed the Lebanese crisis and explained that the international community must take a coherent, multilateral and diplomatic approach to save Lebanon. Because what would happen if Lebanon collapsed?
Recent years, for example, have seen a massive influx of migrants heading to Europe from the Middle East; in my own country, this crisis has raised the radical right to unsuspected heights. And this fear of uncontrolled immigration has bolstered dangerous populist forces from North America to Austria – causing, as I told “Frankly” host Frank Kane, a crisis of leadership in the world. whole, which threatens to undermine the West as a whole.
We must not forget: a failed Lebanon would destroy any fragile stability that Syria has achieved and lead to another refugee crisis. While a collapsed Lebanon could also trigger violence or even, at worst, an all-out war between Israel and Iran. The already unstable Middle East would be plunged into turmoil.
Beyond a terrible human toll, the economic consequences of an open conflict in the Persian Gulf and the Red Sea are difficult to imagine. Even a smaller result could see a violent outbreak of hostilities between Israel and Hezbollah, the terrorist movement behind Lebanon’s new low point.
In total, three failures allow us to understand how a dynamic, tolerant and historically rich country, whose capital was widely compared to Paris, collapsed: power cuts shake the country, the pound has lost almost all of its value, the banks are barely functioning, gasoline is running out, garbage accumulates without being picked up, and educated and wealthy people run away on time.
The first failure is an unfortunate by-product of Lebanon’s civil war. This long conflict between sectarian militias was only resolved by promising each large religious community a specific share of political power. While this encouraged the fighters to lower their weapons, it rewarded them for prioritizing their own communities over Lebanon.
In Lebanon, the government does not reflect competence, or even popular will, but sectarian privilege. This means that any success for a community is not seen as success for all Lebanese, but as a threat for all other Lebanese. The result? A government of favoritism, privilege and poor performance.
Worse, this first failure leads directly to the second: corruption. Because politicians are accountable to the communities, not the country, they are pressured to protect sectarian interests – what is good for Sunnis is bad for Shiites. As such, the state does not act for the common good.
The horrific explosion at the Port of Beirut was the inevitable result of this system. The fact that it has still not been fully investigated is a testament to the bigotry and corruption at work. But this is not the only inevitable outcome, and the third failure concerns Lebanon’s radical Islamic movement, Hezbollah.
Due to sectarianism, corruption, and the movement’s accumulation of weapons and labor force, a state was created within the Lebanese state (or non-state). This small rogue internal state only underscores Lebanon’s widespread dysfunction.
The terrorist group weakens Lebanon, threatens Israel, oppresses Syria and promotes terrorism around the world. Oddly, however, as I explained to Frank Kane, the French government – and many others – seem to act as if the political wing of Hezbollah is separate from the military wing. However, they are one, and both are determined to prevent the rise of a strong, secure and secular Lebanon.
In this environment, and given the geopolitical consequences of inaction, the only hope is for trusted international partners to make long-term commitments to rebuild the Lebanese economy, reform its government, and bring down Hezbollah. These partners would be France and Saudi Arabia, with a long and demonstrated history of commitment to Lebanon.
And, in fact, France and Saudi Arabia pursue such a partnership, as both eager to see Lebanon stabilize, regain its rich potential, help secure a prosperous Middle East, and resist encroachment and destruction. Iranian aggression. But despite the immense resources they offer, each needs the support of their allies.
This means that the European Union and the United States must be on board – not to lead this initiative, which also lacks the national will, but as allies and partners, ready to support wherever and when Paris and Riyadh dictate. Part of it could be – as I told Arab News – the support for the civil society awakening currently being shown by anti-government protesters in Iran. After all, Hezbollah would be nothing without Iran’s hawkish backing.
Lebanon has long been a theater of proxy war. This war and the ongoing submissions to the militias must end. We must disarm Hezbollah and help Lebanon regain its place on the international stage. Pursued properly, this diplomatic endeavor – which must promote a new generation of leaders – could save the country from corruption, the Middle East from future disaster and the world from wreaking havoc.
But it would also provide leaders around the world with new models for saving failed states wherever they are.
This article reflects the views of the author and not those of The Parliament Magazine or The Dods Group