For whom the bell tolls: Lebanon’s clockwork absurdity

Makram Rabah
Makram Rabah
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The recent Saudi Iranian Chinese sponsored détente was received as a good sign and as a first step towards restoring normality in an area plagued with instability and violence. Yet in the case of Lebanon, the settlement between these two regional giants might not be enough to save the country from its spiraling fall into political and economic oblivion.

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As it stands, Lebanon has been without a president for the last five month, with the Lebanese parliament failing to elect a replacement for former president Michel Aoun - a Hezbollah ally whose term in office helped catalyze the country’s collapse. As of late, Hezbollah and its allies have nominated Suliman Frangieh, a friend of Syrian dictator Bashar al-Assad and a traditional tribal chief whose intellectual acumen leaves much to be desired.

The Lebanese political culture and the people have always externalized blame and refused to take responsibility for the absence of reform and accountability, paving the way towards a toxic setting which allowed Hezbollah and its Iranian weapons to strike a deal with the county’s so-called ruling elite. In essence there is a belief that Lebanon - as a model of diversity and coexistence - will eventually be salvaged by the oil-rich Arab Gulf states, who have in the past helped Lebanon exit its fifteen years of civil war (1975-1990) and helped bankroll the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri’s rebuilding project.

Consequently, with Iran and Saudi Arabia reconciling, the Lebanese elite headed by Hezbollah have lost their political fig leaf and the claim that the country’s crises are organically connected to that of the region is no longer valid.

Realistically, the Iran-Saudi rapprochement has intentionally excluded Lebanon, with the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia sending clear signs that they refuse to allow this process to empower Iran’s Lebanese proxy Hezbollah. Saudi support will only resume when the Lebanese elect a president whose sovereignty credentials are unblemished, thus excluding Frangieh and consequently any candidate who is willing to be a front for Hezbollah.

Over the past week, a number of Gulf government delegations visited Beirut and clearly explained to the different Lebanese parties and Hezbollah that Lebanon needs to figure out a political compromise to attract regional and international partners to help pave the way to normalcy.

Instead of heeding this advice, true to character, the Lebanese establishment opted to continue to kick the can down the road and refused to take any step that will lead to political and economic recovery. Only recently the speaker of Parliament Nabeh Berri pressured the caretaker Prime Minster Najib Mikati to delay daylight saving time, to cater to Lebanese Muslims who are currently fasting during the holy month of Ramadan. However, Berri’s charade goes beyond trying to appease the masses as it was successful in creating a gale of protest across the country, especially with many of the Christians who saw this move as one which aims to declare Lebanon a Muslim state.

Berri’s move was not only able to further disconnect Lebanon from the world around it and disrupt many of the scheduled flights, but it was able to distract attention from the fact that Berri as the guardian of this temple of corruption is merely trying to divert attention and buy more time, in hopes of electing a president that suits him.

Time and again Berri has used the sectarian card to scare the Christians and to remind them that their dwindling numbers and senseless choices have made them more trivial than ever. Yet this time, Berri’s act has become an over the hill magician pulling a rabbit from his hat, only to find the furry creature dead and rotting.

A recent visit by a mission from the International Monetary Fund (IMF) to Beirut has underscored the somewhat criminal negligence of the ruling elite, as its statement was a clear departure from its customary diplomatic jargon to adopting a severe tonality, urging the “Government, Parliament, and the Central Bank (BdL) must act together, rapidly and decisively to tackle longstanding institutional and structural weaknesses to stabilize the economy and pave the way for a strong and sustainable recovery.”

The Lebanese political elite, and the Lebanese by extension, can continue to try deceiving God and logic by delaying day light saving or refusing to reform but the recent regional changes have yet again come to remind everyone that Lebanon is unworthy and above all trivial to deserve a bail out and that rather the country’s toxicity makes its untouchable.

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