Lebanon’s Political Deadlock Is as Much About a Failure of EU Diplomacy as It Is About Corruption Amongst Its Elite
Martin JAY | 18.01.2019 | WORLD / Middle East

Lebanon’s Political Deadlock Is as Much About a Failure of EU Diplomacy as It Is About Corruption Amongst Its Elite

Lebanon still doesn’t have an agreement to form a government and cash in on the West’s 11bn dollar aid package, which it badly needs to repair a failing state, teetering on the brink of an economic meltdown.

At the heart of the matter is one single minister, which the Hezbollah-aligned government block wants – who happens to be a supporter of Assad, despite being a Sunni – but Saad Hariri is resisting leaving some here wondering whether the Prime Minister is more part of the problem than the solution.

Off the scale corruption which has reached new levels of money grabbing by Lebanon’s powerful leaders is part of the problem. The block which Hairir represents (the West) is seen to be the main beneficiary of the aid deal, whereas Hezbollah and its allies are not.

But as we pontificate over how backward and corrupt Arab countries are, we cannot look to the West as a moral compass. As Trump’s hostage taking in Washington of the very apparatus of the state struggles for space on the front page of our more serious broadsheets with the Brexit crisis in Britain, we are reminded that governance is becoming an anachronism in these political spheres. France too has a crisis of leadership and governance and yet these same three countries are both quick to chastise backward Lebanon – a country so corrupt that the elite’s money grabbing schemes have resulted in almost no infrastructure of state left to deliver water, electricity, road maintenance while an environmental Armageddon starts to rear its ugly head. In Lebanon if polluted water, burning rubbish, filthy air or beaches which resemble dumps don’t kill you, then Lebanon’s lawless roads or the ‘wasta’ (corruption and kinship) will. When two Lebanese have a car accident here, neither side wastes time arguing who is right or wrong but rather engage in a game of super trumps – where one party says he has an uncle who is an inspector in the police, only for his opponent to respond by saying that his brother in law is a general in the army. ‘Wasta’ here allows people to put a bullet in you and get away with it, to take your company, to allow you to not pay tax, to take a government job which allows you to set up a company which controls the contracts which it distributes. It even allows you to have journalists arrested who investigate you. There are no limits to Wasta.

And yet this same Wasta is literally destroying a country which once stood tall as a beacon in the region.

Wasta even rules the Ambassadors of these EU countries.

Indeed, they are not so quick to lead any intelligent debate or discussions to find a political solution to the stalemate in Lebanon. What is the point of these diplomats, one could ask, who live rock star lives in this tiny country and, like the British Ambassador, hide behind social media accounts while behaving exactly like the corrupt ministers in the host country when approached by media who have awkward questions.

Lebanon deserves better than both the motley crew of ministers who only serve one single purpose in office – to rake in cash for their political masters who have appointed them rather like accountants – and this impotent posse of EU diplomats who, like a previous EU “ambassador” criticize the Lebanese for driving and sending messages on their phones – while she was in traffic and couldn’t resist the tweet. The hypocrisy is staggering.

What is the role of EU diplomats if they can’t help a democratically embryonic failed state like Lebanon get a cabinet of money grabbing buffoons together? How hard can it be?

Or, are they diplomats, also playing a surreptitious role and are also guilty themselves for the deadlock?

For the EU and Old Europe ambassadors in Beirut, it’s my personal view that their main purpose is to keep the Lebanese government happy, to turn a blind eye to corruption, mind numbing human rights abuse and bloggers and journalists being beaten up, all for one single purpose: to not rock the boat, so as over a million Syrian refugees stay where they’re presently housed in Lebanon.

And yet, the Lebanese are ahead of them.

What we are witnessing now is the possibility of the entire Lebanese economy to collapse as the lira is devalued at some point, simply because of this soiled relationship with the West. Lebanese officials tell me secretly that they want the economy to get much worse so that quick cash will flow to them via the west with no pre conditions. This is the sad reality of corruption getting out of hand and too many people frantically feeding at the trough, while the economy actually sinks. The elite are not interested in creating a genuine fiscal system and gathering taxes, cracking down on road crime and the money there for the taking, or for restructuring the ludicrous, if not deluded budget, which gives retired generals a half a million dollar cash payment on retirement.

But if it goes on and these corrupt leaders can ultimately call the bluff of the West, it will be the EU, Britain, France and Germany which will have to pay the ransom when the sluice at Tripol’s port is opened and thousands of Syrian refugees are put on boats for Turkey, placing those same governments are the mercy of President Erdogan of Turkey. The scramble of Arab countries to open embassies in Damascus, might start to make sense, finally and may well speed up the West’s final acknowledgement that the Syrian leader is someone we need to talk to and stop demonizing.

But something needs to be done about Lebanon’s corruption and the West could start to work on this. These embassies should be watchdogs on the atrocities against democracy rather than pantheons of graft and complicity which house thugs who stand on the touchline goading on the savagery. Diplomacy and governance is dying in Washington, London and Paris. In Lebanon, we were all late for the funeral.

Tags: Lebanon