Columnist

The unmistakable path to collapse

Mouafak Harb

In the country where there is no shortage in experts and opinions about any subject, we hear so many scenarios and theories on how to get out of the current economic crisis.

There are several theoretical roads for recovery but there is one certain scenario for total collapse: keep the current ruling class continuing their partitioning of the pie among them and protecting their narrow interests and privileges. They undoubtedly fit the definition of thugs. Their previous experience in governing that led to the failed state, doesn’t entitle them to name or pick minister or senior positions. They choose loyalty over competence and recently they have been picking disloyal incompetent cronies.

At the current pace of deterioration, Lebanon is marching towards a total meltdown by the end of the year.

What are the signs of a total collapse?

Not having access to your savings in banks was the first symptom of the upcoming collapse. But more severe symptoms are imminent.

The Central Bank cannot continue subsidizing essential goods and most importantly medical supplies and prescription drugs. If an immediate solution to this looming crisis is not resolved shortly, the country will move from a political and economic crisis into human catastrophe exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic.

While Lebanese politicians are the ones to blame for this doomsday scenario, the international community cannot escape some blame. Main powers sanctioned the behavior of corrupt leaders of Lebanon and turned a blind eye to their practices under the illusion of protecting the stability of the country. Pursuing a realistic political strategy towards Lebanon doesn’t mean compromising democratic and transparency values. This is called appeasement.

Lebanon is not a collateral damage for the maximum pressure policy by the US against Iran. This is an argument used by local politicians to escape accountability and mismanagement. Lebanon is paying the price of the deliberate and systematic robbery of the state by its own political elite over the past three decades.

While none can ignore the impact of regional conflicts, mainly refugees influx from Syria, it is a mischaracterization of the situation to blame all the problems of the country on refugees. Other countries are hosting Syrian refugees and are not on the brink of collapse.

Countries who expressed willingness to help Lebanon, say to Lebanese “help us in order to help you.”

This statement obviously didn’t gain traction with local players, who mastered the blame game tactics. And it is at the same time a preemptive measure by the western countries to justify possible failure and avoid blame too.

For sure Lebanese will suffer the most if their country entered into total disintegration of the state, but can the West and main regional powers afford a chaotic Lebanon and a return to the civil war.

We have three examples of the international community turning there back to failed states after losing their strategic value: Afghanistan after the collapse of the Soviet Union, Somalia and the war in Yemen. Needless to mention Syria and how the conflict spread into Europe in the form of refugees and terrorism.

Can the world afford the return of a civil war in Lebanon? A country with strategic geographical location and trained human assets, like Lebanon, can easily become a safe heaven to illicit drug traffickers and loose terrorist organizations.

It took 15 years to put Lebanon back together following the 1990’s invasion of Kuwait by Saddam Hussein. The world decided to end the Civil War and subcontract Lebanon to Syria’s Hafez Assad.

The world has a lot of stakes to avoid seeing Lebanon spiraling into military conflicts.

Since the French initiative stalled after the failure of Prime Minister designate Mustapha Adib to form a Cabinet, two breakthroughs broke the ice last week and provided a slim of hope; The framework agreement between Lebanon and Israel to begin maritime talks facilitated by the United States, and the unprecedented initiative by former Prime Minister Saad Hariri who was brave enough and willing to share some responsibility in what happened to the country and expressed his readiness to reach out to other political factions in order to form an interim salvation Cabinet to tackle immediate challenges.

This week is crucial to Lebanon, where politicians have to choose between a recovery plan with a potential to work or return to the current stagnation with assured collapse, threatening the sovereignty and territorial integrity of the country.

At the weekend Lebanon marks the first anniversary of the Oct. 17 protests, the first serious attempt by ordinary citizens to change the status quo and express their discontent. Some people blame protestors for speeding up the process of the economic collapse, but it is fair to say that protestors woke the international community and ordinary Lebanese up to the grim reality that their country is being robbed and business cannot continue as usual. It introduced accountability to the system by its own people, when the judicial system is controlled by those who should face trial.

As we mark the first anniversary, organizers and activists should move onto the stage of offering viable ideas and introducing representatives that enjoy the trust of the people.

Mouafac Harb is a veteran American-Lebanese journalist based in Beirut.

 

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