Lebanon still seems to be at a crossroads. However, this time it is surely different. Two overlapping crises have made the present moment unique in Lebanon’s recent history. In this seminar, Bassel F. Salloukh from the Doha Institute for Graduate Studies shares his analysis.
The first crisis concerns the post-war sectarian political system rooted in national and geopolitical pacts that took the form of the Taif Accord of 1989. It is a crisis that is best expressed in the protests that have erupted on October 17, 2019. Although the sectarian political elite would use a combination of repression, infiltration and intimidation to contain the protests, the depth and breadth of popular anger against the post- war persist. and is empirically documented through a wide range of pre-election surveys. Left to their own devices, sectarian political parties would like elections to go away because their control over their sectarian constituencies has reached its lowest point. The failure of the opposition groups and parties that emerged from the October 17 protests to come together as a united front speaks more to their weak organizational capacities and deep ideological differences than to the faith of the sectarian elite in their own position. .
The second crisis takes the form of a complete collapse of the post-war political economy, the one upon which the post-war order was erected. It manifests itself in the superimposition of the budgetary, financial, socio-economic and monetary crises that have been going on in Lebanon for more than two years now. It’s one that a 2021 World Bank report, ‘The Great Denial’, considers ‘likely to rank in the top 10, perhaps three, of the worst crisis episodes in the middle world. from the 1800s to 2013″. The response of the political, economic and financial elites to this latest crisis has been a set of policies that have deliberately exacerbated socio-economic and financial conditions in an effort to retain their political power, defend their material interests and reproduce the sectarian system. . Faced with the choice between sharing power with anti-sectarian opposition groups and reforming the political system in the direction of a civil state or, alternatively, letting the socio-economic and financial free fall of recent years with its disastrous consequences, the post-war elite opted for the latter.
The sectarian political elite decided to respond to these twin crises with a combination of sectarian demonization, societal destruction and expectation of side effects from the geopolitical agreements on Lebanon. But what kind of Lebanon will emerge from this current moment of collapse? What are the causes of this fiscal, financial, monetary and socio-economic collapse at the same time? Are we witnessing the end of the post-Taif order? Will the political elite manage to save the sectarian system? Can this be undertaken without substantial political reforms that alter the sectarian balance of power institutionalized in the Taif Accord? What kind of society and economy will emerge from the current collapse? What are the different scenarios to consider as we move forward? And what role can the international community play in developing these scenarios?
Opening speech by Kristian Berg Harpviken, Research Professor at PRIO and Director of the PRIO Middle East Centre.
Bassel F. Salloukh is Associate Professor and Head of Politics and International Relations Program at the Doha Institute of Graduate Studies in Qatar. Among his publications are the The politics of sectarianism in post-war Lebanon (Pluto Press, 2015) and Beyond the Arab Spring: Authoritarianism and Democratization in the Arab World (Lynne Rienner Publishers, 2012), both co-authored.
Middle Eastern breakfast
The PRIO Middle East Center is hosting a series of breakfast seminars for Oslo’s diverse Middle East-watching community. The series will draw attention to current issues and discuss them in light of historical, regional and global trends. MidEast Breakfast offers the opportunity to combine breakfast and food for thought in a compact one-hour format.