Lebanon’s Government Needs Urgent Reform – Liberal Article
The 4th of August saw one of the worst disasters in Lebanese history. The capital of Lebanon, Beirut, lies in ruins. 300,000 homeless. 5,000 wounded. 220 people dead. What was left of Lebanon’s teetering economy was wiped out by the catastrophic blast. No one could have seen this coming. No one, that is, except for the government.
The 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate that set off the explosion was stored in a single warehouse. This should have been a concern for anybody, especially the country’s ruling authorities. In fact, Lebanon’s state security raised this issue long ago. Yet, the government chose to ignore this. For six years.
The people of Lebanon are infuriated, and rightly so. Protesters have flooded the streets of Beirut demanding answers. In the aftermath, Prime Minister Diab resigned, claiming that he ‘cared’ about the Lebanese people. However, this small sentiment is not enough. Diab has called for early elections, but this is a sham to keep the elites in power without facing real consequences.
If actual changes are to be made, the country’s new caretaker government must reform. If it cannot, then Lebanon is headed for much worse.
The blast is a catalyst for the people’s anger, but not the sole cause. For many months, the country’s economy has been in turmoil. Inflation has made the bare necessities unaffordable. Most can only eat once every two days. On top of this, Lebanon is tackling a sharp outbreak of Coronavirus cases. The blast only worsened this downward spiral.
Yet it is clear that the political elites of Lebanon are responsible for this crisis. For decades, they used a Ponzi scheme to keep the government solvent. Heavy public debts were incurred and then paid off using the savings of ordinary people. Even worse, corrupt politicians funded their lifestyles with these peoples’ money. Last October, this scheme catastrophically failed as savings accounts dried up. The Lira crashed. High inflation followed. Impoverishment ensued.
However, you reap what you sow. The government’s corruption and economic mismanagement have meant that investors and other nations have been unwilling to fund Lebanon’s recovery. The ruling elite has compromised the lives of its 6.8 million civilians.
Long-term aid to the country itself is conditional on political reform. A caretaker government staffed with these same politicians, though, is unlikely to change. Further, there is another huge obstacle to reform. As terrible as the political elites are, there is someone worse. Hezbollah.
Following a brutal civil war, the country’s government was restructured. What followed was a sectarian parliament. However, Hezbollah – an Iranian-backed militant party – has hijacked the system. Lurking in the background, they have used the main parties to advance their cause.
Hezbollah has the potential to ‘reform’, but in all the wrong ways. The caretaker government would curb the party’s influence in parliament, but this isn’t enough. Hezbollah has power in other places, particularly along Lebanon’s border regions. In fact, Professor Khouri predicts that the Lebanese people will have to compromise with Hezbollah. I hope that day never comes.
A Hezbollah-controlled Lebanon would worsen the country’s crisis. They would prevent foreign aid given to the government. They pose a significant threat to Lebanon’s pluralistic society. Furthermore, they would catapult Lebanese citizens into unnecessary wars with Israel whilst worsening other regional conflicts. These are dangerous outcomes, ones that could lead to more demonstrations and continuing deprivation.
Corrupt political elites, a broken parliament, and Hezbollah stand in the way of recovery. Lebanon’s government is in dire need of radical reform. However, it may come too late. In fact, many in Lebanon are now looking to France instead.
Macron’s trip to Lebanon was groundbreaking, visiting victims the government would not. In his wake, 62,000 people have called for Lebanon to become a French mandate again. Whilst I do not personally agree with the move, it is symbolic of how little trust Lebanese citizens have in their own government. The political elites should heed this warning.
The people of Lebanon have grown tired. The government has failed its civilians. It needs to reform, urgently!
Written by Senior Liberal Writer, Frank Allen
Point of Information
Resignation without reform is a Lollipop – A Labour Response
Following the riots and protests all over the country, Lebanon’s sitting government has resigned. In their opinion, it is a step to respect the wishes of people. However, without a road map on how to tackle this crisis, this resignation will lead the country into a much worse situation.
As Frank empathetically explains, the country has just faced a devastating blast. The economy is on the verge of collapse. Corruption is at an all-time high, diplomatic relations are weakened, there is a civil insurgency and, above all, Hezbollah is waiting like a vulture to eat up the country. And in this crucial moment, the best approach would have been to give a proper plan, make reforms and then call for re-elections.
A caretaker government is very dangerous for a country that is already facing instability. Furthermore, the protests might not end just on a promise of re-elections. The caretaker government again has the same faces. So the riots may get worse. Extremist groups can also take advantage of the situation and cause further instability.
The step of resigning was a mere reflection of how panicked the government were. They think just resigning and announcing re-elections would calm people down.
The people themselves are panicked. This is the psychological group reaction of people targeted by the blast. They don’t know what to do, so the only one to look up to and to blame is government. It is very natural for the public will show outrage against the government and hope the government will come up with something to tackle the situation. However, it seems that the government is more panicked than the people.
These protesters are just generally out on streets demanding reform. The movement does not have a single leader or a clear vision. They are like sheep without a shepherd. Right now, they can be easily manipulated by anyone but their government. This means that Lebanon could be the next on the list for an uprising like the Arab Spring and might end up like Libya or Tunisia. In such a vulnerable state, many would look up to groups like Hezbollah. The country will be doomed.
Written by Guest Labour Writer, Shamamah Dogar
From French mandate to Macron, France is back in Lebanon after seventy-seven years – A Conservative Response
The explosion in Beirut was a tragedy, there is no other way to assess what happened. It was an unnecessary loss of life which was the result of negligence on the part of the government. It is fair to say that sympathies from around the world are with those who were affected in Beirut.
However, saying that ‘Lebanon’s government needs urgent reform’ is an underwhelming and oversimplified statement. It is undeniable that Lebanon’s current government is harmful to the country due to its nepotism and corruption. But one cannot simply blame all of Lebanon’s issues on this current government. One must look back further in time.
The main stem of Lebanon’s civil unrest, political turmoil and economic difficulties all result from the National Pact created in 1943 as the French mandate over Lebanon ended. This piece of country-building documentation is the catalyst to almost all of Lebanon’s modern-day problems. This is because it created an inherently unstable political framework which Lebanon would attempt to use for the next seventy-seven years.
Firstly, the National Pact merged the Mount Lebanon and Greater Lebanon regions into a single country, a vast melting pot of cultures and ideologies forced to live together (seventeen different sects). Quite simply, it is considerably easier to be neighbours with someone you do not get along with than to share a house with them.
Secondly, the pact institutionalised sectarianism in a way which prevented political progress and the development of a political body that was capable of governing over the entirety of Lebanon.
Finally, the political makeup of Lebanon’s government and its Chamber of Deputies was decided by the French using statistics from the only ever census of Lebanon which was carried out in 1932. This data was outdated and as a result representation between Maronite Christians and the Muslim populations is greatly disproportional.
These three issues I’ve outlined are only the tip of the iceberg for explaining Lebanon’s modern-day struggles. One could also go into great depth about the prelude to the 1975-90 civil war or the consequences of mass Palestinian migration. Comparable to systematic and institutional racism, Lebanon is suffering as the result of colonial doctrines which have become enshrined into a society which they do not benefit. When making the National Pact, France was attempting to appease all seventeen of Lebanon’s sects with lots of compromises and as a result, satisfied no one.
To say the government needs ‘urgent reform’ really is a conclusion made from only examining Lebanon as it is today. Lebanon needs a complete overhaul of its political infrastructure as this is the true cause of all the aforementioned problems. Lebanon has always had corrupt governments since gaining sovereignty because the structures left in place by the French are ill-equipped and not in the best interests of Lebanon, nor its people. It is inherently a corrupt infrastructure which will perpetually create more corrupt governments.
At the end of the day, one might see it as ironic that in Lebanon’s hour of need it is France’s Macron offering an olive branch with his visit. There is overwhelming evidence that the conflicts and tragedies plaguing Lebanon today are the product of the withdrawal of French Mandate and National Pact.
Overall, Lebanon’s government doesn’t need reforming. It needs reinventing from the ground up. Of course, some blame can be placed on the corruption of the current government. However, the same is true of all the corrupt Lebanese governments which came before because of the National Pact and its perpetual creation of inequality and contentions between sects.
Written by Guest Conservative Writer, Peter Pearce
Politics was a completely taboo subject for me as a young boy. Having lived almost all my life in Brunei and Qatar – two very strict, theocratic autocracies – I was cautious to keep my opinions well-guarded. The smallest negative remark about either country’s governance, for example, would’ve meant deportation for my family and I. Any non-approved political activity, no matter how naïve, had to be kept a secret. It was best not to question at all.
I am going into my second year at the University of Exeter studying a flexible combined honour in Geography and Politics. My interest in politics and geography stems from an interest in current events and the wider world, with geography being the study of all world processes.