Lebanese officials are always calling the crisis du jour “existential,” yet Lebanon manages to endure. But the Syrian refugee crisis just might be existential. Lebanon’s interior minister said recently that Syrian nationals now constitute 29 percent-30 percent of Lebanon’s population. Imagine the refugee influx if Damascus and Homs implode! Since 17 years is the global average of displacement, Lebanon is rightly concerned about the refugees and the continuing burden on infrastructure, potential militarization and threat to the sectarian balance.
Lebanon has not had a president – who must be a Maronite Christian under a power-sharing agreement – since President Michel Sleiman’s term expired on May 24, 2014. In the meantime, the council of ministers – which assumes presidential powers during a vacancy – has been paralyzed, because most decrees need the signatures of all 24 ministers, a nigh impossible task.
Lebanon’s Prime Minister Tammam Salam has thrown up his hands and conceded in various meetings with heads of state and foreign ministers in New York last week that his country’s political factions can’t elect a president.
The streets of Beirut are once again filled with the voices of angry citizens fed up with a system increasingly incapable of addressing the basic needs of its people. More than just the visible culmination of a contractual dispute, the current garbage crisis is a symptom of the government’s deeper systemic failures that have wreaked havoc on the nation’s capacity for stability and rule of law.
For over 450 days, Lebanon has “operated” without a President because political parties in parliament, which is tasked with electing the President, cannot come to an agreement on a candidate. Parliament, a body entirely comprised of elected officials, has twice self-extended its term, through dubious constitutional means, and undermined the foundational process of democracy to legitimize the continual...