Something in Lebanon today reeks of the 70’s… And I’m not talking about disco.
I am talking about the time when we were all huddled in makeshift shelters, reading about the plight of baby seals in a western Press that was too busy to talk about us… Back then, no one was looking while Lebanon was burning, with Syria and Israel fanning the flames. When they looked, they “farmed us out” to the Syrians, to reward them for their “support” in the first Gulf War.
It did not matter to the “free world” that Syria sponsored a few terrorists, that it co-sponsored Hezbollah, or as I like to call them, Hezbo’, Iran’s local chapter of the Pasdaran. Nor did it matter that the outgunned Lebanese army resisted their onslaught, fought to the death, and even counterattacked…
But things are different today.
Yes, today, everyone is looking again. Less than 2 years after the Cedar Revolution, the Lebanese find themselves unable to meet to elect a president.
But today, 9/11 got the “free world” got a ( somewhat better) new set of specs, and even French and Americans agree who’s to blame; it is a Syrian regime threatened by our freedom, and an Iran theocracy insulted by our secular ambitions…
For now; we live with neighbours I would not wish on my worse enemy, and all their squabbles ultimately reflect on us…
To be sure, we Lebanese share our part of the blame… Many of Syria’s useful idiots use that to berate us, as some of the reasons for that are appearing today, after the Syrian occupation melted away, issues that were suppressed for all those years started to appear.
Many Lebanese recall the 60’s, when international economic experts were asked to evaluate the Lebanese economic miracle. After much study, they decided that they had no clue how it worked. But since it worked so well, better not change anything. Back then, our per-capita GDP was comparable to Israel’s. In 1990, after the civil war, it was down to less than a third. Today, after 15 years of Syrian occupation, it is down to less than a sixth…
Not all of it is due to our neighbours. Our “system” has a deadly weakness; in the 21st century, Lebanon is still operated like a city-state, with everything concentrated on the capital, Beirut. As a result, the country is run like a (short term) for-profit business by whoever controls Beirut. Because of this short-term emphasis, the people who run the show tend to be more like “deal makers” than real businessmen, and few who “produce” anything “real” can hope to make much headway. The government becomes the largest economic player, generating 30% to 35% of GDP; all those plum jobs can be a great source of power, with little or no accountability . When the late Rafik Hariri came along, he tried to reform while still under Syrian tutelage… Since he could only tamper with the “system” without addressing the root causes of the civil war, we now have a nice downtown Beirut, a bloated government bureaucracy, and the highest debt to GDP ratio in the world.
The result of all this is that, even in “Free Lebanon”, people still need to “hedge” during election time, to make sure they maintain access to the powers of patronage of the winner.
So, when more than 70% of the nation went to the streets on March 14th 2005, at the heyday of the Cedar Revolution, our anger was not only directed against Syrian oppression and terror, it was also directed against a corrupt system that allowed the gangsters of Damascus to rule the streets of Beirut.
The demonstration was also partly a reaction to the March 8th demo in support of Syria, when about 10% of the nation showed up, backed by 50,000 or so Syrians… by choosing to celebrate the anniversary of the Syrian regime in downtown Beirut, Nasrallah and his goons had though they would intimidate the silent majority, but they only galvanized us even more… We all knew the time was different, and we all understood the threat posed by an organized, well funded outfit such as Hezbo’.
In the shadows of the Syrian occupation, Hezbo’ had been able to use the Lebanese “system” to their advantage, and hijack the Lebanese Shiite community by a combination of coercion and patronage. By diverting Lebanese government resources to their parasitic mini-state, Hassan Nasrallah and his followers were able to make optimal use of Iran’s yearly influx of USD 300 – 500 Million, and capitalize on Lebanese ingenuity to build the ” best guerrilla force in the world”. So it is no wonder they forced Israel out in 2000. And it is no wonder they were able to see off an ill-conceived Israeli invasion in 2006.
But Hezbo’ is hindered by its own nature, and the fact remains that the party is a sectarian force, and for all its armaments, it remains a guerrilla.
For all its calls for worldwide revolution, Hezbo’ remains a sectarian party with limited sectarian appeal, unable to expand beyond its core in the Shiite community. And it cannot “grow by acquisition” to reach the Lebanese political centre, as any allies they gain from other communities will themselves lose support from within their own “side”.
For all its power, Hezbo’ cannot grow its parasitic canton into a state. As it consolidates its canton, it is only “fixing” its guerrilla forces in three isolated regions where they can be easily targeted, and whose lines of communications remain vulnerable to other militias. Those mountain passes are easy to close, and this tent city is dangerously isolated…
The party and its Syrian and Iranian patrons are fighting hard to maintain a status-quo that benefited well in the past. But their “conservative revolution” will not work; aside from being an oxymoron, they picked off too many enemies at once. They are not only terrorising the Lebanese, but they are endangering Arab and western Interests.
With all the “noise” surrounding us in Lebanon, I like to take a break away from the news feeds, to try to listen to the life of people… To most real people, the election drama is nothing but a fight of marionettes in which we have little say. We did not know if there will be an election on November 12th, we don’t know if we’ll have one on November 21st, and I do not think the pawns who rule is have any more clue.
Those who will decide are not among us in Lebanon. They are not even close by in Damascus. The Syrian regime may feel its cause is winning, with the US in the Iraqi quagmire, the Lebanese divided, and the French still too amateurish.
The Saudis, however, are another matter, especially now that larger US interests in the region are aligned with an increasingly assertive House of Saud. They now consider that Syria is “in the way” of complex interests , and prefer to address its Iranian patrons directly when they want Damascus to do something
So now we know who’s electing our President. We just do not know when.
Article and original art by Jeha. Jeha lives in Beirut and blogs at Jeha’s Nail