Mourning in Lebanon
These past two weeks succinctly reflect the nature of Lebanon’s demise – a six-week old public sector strike, desperately needed grain being refused by the buyer after a five month delay, another threatening speech by Hassan Nasrallah. Another day spawns another disaster in Lebanon, or another threat of hostilities and civil disorder, or another rise in the cost of essential goods and services – if they are even available. It’s a never-ending marathon of man-made tribulations, mostly made in the case of Lebanon. On the government side, continued parliamentary impasses, an uncertain move towards a government formation, and the upcoming presidential elections all coincide with new members of parliament learning what it is like to govern in a vacuum of collaboration.
The reality in Lebanon is that the state is in desperate need of triage, starting with the government owning up to its responsibilities to reform and recover. It has so far not come to terms with its own history over the last thirty years, out which this debilitating economic crisis has emerged, even if the outcome of the recent elections has offered hope to various opposition figures, emboldening them to make sure that presidential elections occur on time, the reform process goes ahead, and Lebanon’s road to survival becomes more than a fleeting hope.
As an article in GulfNews.com mentions, “Heaven knows, Lebanon had weathered loss in its 79-year history as an independent state, but the port explosion was of a different order, for it morphed into a collective trauma that so completely overwhelmed people’s ability to grasp, let alone cope with what had happened, and so shattered the basic fabric of society as to leave people numb. It was literally an earthshaking happening that led to a marathon of mourning.” And the trauma continues.
“What the Lebanese people are experiencing today — have, in fact, been experiencing for decades, as their polity sunk deeper and deeper into pandemonium — is no less than an emptying out at the core of their national soul, a negation of that fusion of form and content, means and meaning that a people strive for and a nation provides.”
The concept of a nation, let alone a state, seems to be lost on some leaders. While the speaker of parliament urged the holding of presidential elections, formation of a new government, and conclusion of the maritime boundary negotiations with Israel, his ally, Sayid Hassan Nasrallah, took aim in his Ashoura rally at those same boundary negotiations. Hezbollah’s Secretary General also took aim at Israeli attacks on Palestinians in Lebanon’s refugee camps as well as the ‘alternative’ to any upcoming presidential elections, calling into question any way but his way to a future for Lebanon.
Meanwhile, the public sector strike reached its sixth week as employees seek some dignity amid the plummeting of their salaries from $1300 USD a month to just under $70 USD. The middle class is not just hollowed out, it has disappeared. There is a dilemma in the resolution of this issue, however, in that the 350,000 workers who make up the public sector will face shake ups in employment if reforms to the national budget are implemented, eliminating ‘ghost’ employees and redundant labor.
While the search for a consensus presidential candidate continues among Lebanon’s political chiefs, prospects grow dim as all sides aim to get past the 3/4‘s requirement to win on the first ballot in parliament – after which only a majority is required on successive ballots. There is much scrambling going on, which is delaying the formation of a new government that can proceed without a new president. Instructively, Caretaker Prime Minister “Mikati’s lineup did not satisfy [current president] Aoun, who said the prime minister’s choices undermined him. Communication between the two has been fraught since then, and all attempts to revive forming a government have stalled.”
Speaking of sermons, let’s not overlook Maronite Patriarch Beshara Boutros al-Rai’s latest attempt to shake the status quo. In his weekly sermon, he wondered aloud why it’s easier to negotiate with Israel over a maritime boundary than come to an agreement on a government. Without criticizing the maritime boundary negotiations, he points to the continued divisions among the country’s leadership. “Isn’t it shameful that authorities make efforts to reach an agreement with Israel on maritime borders but refrain from forming a government? Has it become easier for them to agree with Israel than to agree on a government among the Lebanese? Isn’t the split in political power in Lebanon, and of the parties… the basis of the (country’s) political, economy, financial and social decay?” he added.
And so Lebanon continues to hobble along, temporarily supported by the economic boost of this year’s tourist season, comprised of mostly expatriate Lebanese visiting families and perhaps seeing their homeland one last time before it disintegrates. There is always hope that some intervention may yet enable Lebanon to move on, but help from external forces has never been a long-term solution, only the Lebanese can do that. Thawra revisited? May be time for a new revolution?
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.