Dead in the water is perhaps the best term to describe Lebanon, as the country continues to experience crises, including a recent cholera outbreak. It continues also in its struggle to elect a new president to replace Michel Aoun, whose term expired on October 31. While electing a president is a simple democratic practice enshrined in the Lebanese constitution, the parliament entrusted in this task has failed to fulfill this task. Each week is an occasion for many of the 128 lawmakers to convene and demonstrate their blatant and insolent disregard to the constitution.
The failure to elect a new president hinge on the fact that the Lebanese political establishment believes that voting is an act which they must practice when there is full consensus for a candidate. It usually comes with a regional and international deal which allows them to bankroll their archaic clientelist system.
However, this time Lebanon’s political elite have failed to notice that their small country does not really figure amongst the global chaos caused by the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Or, by a post-COVID-19 world economy trying to avoid eventual recession.
Perhaps the most important factor of all is that Hezbollah and its elaborate arsenal no longer have the Lebanese states’ economy to use to bankroll their social welfare system funding their die-hard supporters.
Over the last two decades, the Lebanese have enjoyed the benefits of an ultra-liberal economic system set up by the larger-than-life former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri who was assassinated by Hezbollah in 2005.
While Hariri’s death was investigated by the Special Tribunal for Lebanon which indicted a senior Hezbollah intelligence operative and part of the Iranian militia’s hit squad, the Lebanese thought that it would be a good idea to normalize relations with his murders and allows for Michel Aoun, Hezbollah’s main Maronite ally, to be elected president.
As it stands, Lebanon is still living through the repercussions of the Hariri murder. It put the country on a collision course with reality. Economic prosperity is impossible while turning a blind eye to Hezbollah acting as the spearhead for Iran’s expansionist project in the region.
The sequence of events underscored the fact that Hezbollah can indeed prevent the election of a president and derail any other form of democracy and accountability. Yet, it is unable itself, to appoint a puppet president using only its arsenal of weapons and bullying tactics.
Perhaps the most dangerous chimera is one where the Lebanese suppose that the international community will come to their rescue. A regional and international settlement will put back Lebanon’s Ponzi scheme economy. Essentially, Lebanon no longer has the appeal nor the ability to attract any of its historic allies to come to its aid.
The French initiative led by President Emmanuel Macron and other nations is one which plans to cannibalize Lebanon as part of the latter’s attempt to gain points with the Iranian regime. It’s based on finding ways to benefit from billions of dollars, once the nuclear deal with Iran is reinstated.
During the opening of the 157th academic year at the American University of Beirut (AUB), one of the region’s most prestigious centers of knowledge, its president Fadlo Khuri, drew parallels between Lebanon’s situation and post WWII Germany. He underscored the fact that the Germans rose from the mayhem and destruction to become one of the leading pillars of the global economy.
Khuri invited everyone to reflect on how post-Nazi Germany was able to “complete one of the most successful rebuilds in modern human history, and what lessons can we glean from that undertaking to help shape the future of Lebanon and the region?” He went on to explain how AUB plans to survive in this time of crisis and continue its mission to help Lebanon and the world around it.
Khuri’s optimism is not unfounded, yet for Lebanon to change its reality, it must go beyond the simple task of rebuilding its infrastructure and economy. It needs to pursue an ethical quest and reexamine its own form of fascism and Nazism which led to its demise.
Consequently, for post-Hezbollah Lebanon to move forward it needs to get rid of the system which allowed the terrorist group members to become heroes and to claim sainthood, similarly to the Nazis. Rather than allowing for impunity to remain the dominate culture and abandon the pursuit of justice for the murders of hundreds that were killed in the Beirut port explosion, accompanied by many political assassinations, the Lebanese must fight and perhaps die to win back their country.
The cholera pandemic, spreads because of the lack of proper hygiene and the contamination of the drinking water from the sewage system. In the same token, Lebanon will never be able to cure itself from political pandemics as long as it continues to drink from the same cesspool and hope for the best.