We seem to be at a breaking point in Lebanon as this tiny country finally starts a political and economic meltdown. What was the tipping point? Hariri’s own scandal with his TV station and then the 16m dollar payout to a South African paramour? The local currency taking a beating which created a dollar panic, resulting in the banks just stopping supplying cash machines? Or perhaps the forest fires which really drove the point home just how mismanaged the country is, if managed at all. There is poor governance but what we have witnessed in the last decade certainly in Lebanon is almost non-governance.
The crisis which is emerging now and which is being keenly watched in the region is essentially economic which stems from a political one as its root cause. But how Lebanon became in debt to the tune of almost 90bn dollars, with no real easy way out of its malaise, is more the point: a system which was built as a temporary solution to win peace at the end of a civil war, simply went on too long and allowed warlords to run the country like they actually owned the state apparatus and the economy itself. In the earlier days when there was something resembling an economy – pre 2011 when the Syria war kicked off – there was always something in the pot to be taken. But eventually what we witnessed was that same apparatus, which we could call an alternative state, being used to exploit failure; Lebanon’s corrupt and greedy leaders adapted the model so that it could be used to embezzle international aid money, destroy the country’s environment and build a truly third world economy so as to look to international aid as a solution to their cash needs. It got so bad, that the ‘gang’ squabbled over who got to deal with the country’s garbage and found agreement in letting it pile up and become a crisis, simply to exploit the system even further and to lobby for 300m dollar incinerators – which of course come with massive kickbacks.
Perhaps it was the start of the garbage crisis in 2015 which is where the present crisis actually started in Lebanon.
But there are lessons for Gulf Arab states whose leaders might be having sleepless nights, as they look at Lebanon, Algeria, Sudan, Iraq and even to some extent Morocco and mull the take away points. In Lebanon, the situation is somewhat unique, dangerous yet exciting as well as this tiny country could adopt change, in ways that other Arab countries can’t. Not easily at least.
Lebanon could be where a new Arab Spring starts.
There is no other Arab country which has had an economy destroyed and real development stifled than Lebanon, a country with a very high level of education and so therefore huge potential as an economy on its own feet. People in Lebanon are aware more of the political system in the US and in most EU countries more than any other Arab country and are ready to embrace such a model.
But the remarkable thing about this meltdown is not how inevitable it was or how long it took to come about. What is truly breath-taking is the culpability of the West and in particular western diplomats who are responsible for it in the first place. For decades countries like the US, France and the UK actually supported the corrupt leaders and actually assisted them with their looting, both domestically and with international cash. Britain, as one example, had ambassadors prop up the corrupt leadership of Michel Aoun, a leaders so outstandingly ill equipped to run Lebanon and seen as a Hezbollah stooge who lied about his own age to the people of his own country, was backed to the hilt by the EU and Britain, the US and others mainly because the EU cannot cope with Syrian refugees leaving the region and heading towards Greece or Italy. And so, certainly since 2011, when things started to affect Lebanon from the neighbouring war, there was always this bribery of the Lebanese elite going on, which went as far as EU aid programs being so badly run because cash was stolen from them and siphoned off to Hezbollah – which we now know is responsible for cancer rates shooting through the roof, from the country’s natural water resources being poisoned – right across the board to the UK for example handing over almost a billion dollars in cash for Syrian refugees. Presumably some of that money was used to buy schoolbooks for kids under the watch of the odious Tom Fletcher, the most narcissistic Ambassador Britain’s diplomatic loins have ever produced. And, even in Morocco, where a more tempered Arab Spring in bubbling we see exactly the same rank encouragement by Britain’s ambassador to support a human rights Armageddon as journalists are thrown into jail, while he has a sock crisis while prancing about with the Rabat elite learning polo and gentrifying himself at the price of Moroccans suffering.
Lebanon is also special though due to at least half a million guns being in circulation which is part of what is giving Hariri the jitters as he knows that the army can’t control things if the Lebanese really go mad. But who would take real responsibility for bloodshed and anarchy? Not the these British ambassadors who made a career out of the misery or the Danish EU ambassador who recently left her 10 million dollar townhouse in Beirut to go back to Denmark, while Lebanese cancer rates kill more people due to her cover up of a 14 year corruption scandal, which is reminiscent of the movie staring Julia Roberts called Erin Brockovich.
The West created the horror of what is happening in Lebanon, just as it did in Iraq, Algeria and Sudan. The EU’s fabulously delusional ‘Barcelona Process’ treaty which was supposed to bring Arab countries closer could not only not predict the first Arab Spring in 2011, but actually manufactured its second one through its own corruption of propping up dictators like Aoun and his regime. It’s high time that the West accepts responsibility for its global corruption and wholesale support of brutal, greedy dictators in places like Lebanon. What is it afraid of, after all? In short, that a country like Lebanon develops a cross party, cross confessional group new political system which is based on anti corruption and accountability which would cost the West five times more money to support? Now we’re getting closer to the real story.
What is emerging in Lebanon is a new political dynamic. It is only a matter of time before a new political system based loosely on the western model takes root and people from all groups say ‘no more’ to corruption. The question is where the West will be able to cope with that as a new level of accountability will throw a really awkward spotlight in the West’s activities in such countries which will make Chirac’s brown envelope’s from Saddam look trivial in comparison to the real story of who is responsible for Lebanon’s meltdown today.