Innocent Victims of Beirut’s Politics

Thursday, November 10, 2022
Opinion by Jean AbiNader

Lebanon’s fragility is underscored by its gravely weakened education and health sectors; the miserable condition and cost of public transportation; its devalued economy; and the ongoing threats to its security and stability. Anyone who says that these are temporary conditions has not been in the streets of Lebanon lately. Consider the cholera-infested areas of the north, Lebanese dumpster diving in Beirut, or the littered streets and beaches. While there is some agreement that a consensus president is needed, the lack of agreement on implementing the IMF reform package is less reassuring.

As I wrote last week, “It’s clear that international assistance from donors such as the EU and the US are the only remedies for keeping health-care facilities operating. The costs of most procedures, scarce and insufficient medicines, and the migration of health professionals spell doom to Lebanon medical infrastructure. Even though 80% of facilities are private, the challenges to both the private and public sectors in health services are enormous. For a patient to complain that being in a hospital is like a death sentence due to inadequate facilities, personnel, and medications exposes the depths of despair of Lebanon’s once stellar health sector.”

Unfortunately, the education sector is similarly troubled. With teachers emigrating and the remaining paid infrequently – many of whom left without the means to meet their transportation costs and switched to contract employees in order to avoid social security, medical insurance, and other benefits – the sector has been severely degraded. This is true across the 325,000 public sector employees (2021), including among the security forces.

The hollowing out of state institutions and protections of civil and human rights will delay the reconstructing of a credible, professional public sector. The first needed remediation is a package of social support services that are inclusive, equitable, and transparent. As of now, the social contract between the state and its employees is frazzled, fraught with omissions, exclusions, and nepotism, and subject to the whims of political leaders ensuring their survival by pandering to their constituents.

According to a recent report from The Policy Initiative, “Elites used state resources and private capital to establish clientelist social protection networks. The country’s sectarian political parties [after Taif] became the main providers of benefits, creating multiple, competing, social contracts and political arrangements.”

So, not only do politicians need political will to rebuild the state,   state institutions require a backbone of qualified, well-compensated public servants that are committed to the country by carrying out their work efficiently and transparently. It is the substitution of these sectarian networks that has undone the country and poses the greatest threat to its recovery.

But the issue is much deeper than the decline of the social cohesion of the country. According to the 2021 World Bank Governance Indicators as reported by Byblos Bank, Lebanon is ranked at 9% in Political Stability, while Qatar is tops at 83%. Lebanon scores ahead of Palestine, Sudan, Libya, Iraq, Yemen, and Syria. The reality speaks for itself. Lebanon has diminished its once highly regarded civil society to the status of pariah or broken state.

So build, back, better Lebanon without the carnage of the past 30+ years since Taif. And give your children, women, and youth a reason to invest in their futures inside the country.


Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.