Who is to blame for Lebanon’s mess?
The explosions that devastated Beirut have shown the world the ugly, but true, face of Lebanon; like the thousands of windows shattered by the shockwave, any illusion of a functional state has been blown to bits. A nation that has so often had to pretend that things were OK has been suffering from institutional failure all along.
The painful reality is that no one expects those responsible for this act of criminal negligence to be held to account. Such accountability ceased in Lebanon a long time ago.
It was therefore no surprise when many Lebanese expressed a wish for recolonization by France; the French principles of liberty, equality and fraternity are currently but a distant dream for every honest Lebanese on the planet.
After all, who would not want to get rid of Hezbollah’s armed oppression and hijacking of the whole country? For how long will Lebanon remain a rich man’s club where only the affluent can afford basic utilities such as 24/7 electricity? Until when will the corrupt “every man for himself” political class continue to run the country while serving only themselves?
Even before Tuesday’s disaster, Lebanon was on the brink of meltdown from a combination of the coronavirus pandemic, corruption, militant oppression, massive street protests and sanctions targeting Syria and Hezbollah. According to Steve H. Hanke, professor of applied economics at Johns Hopkins University, Lebanon has the unwelcome distinction of being the first country in this region to suffer hyperinflation — a monthly inflation rate of at least 50 percent for 30 consecutive days.
If this disaster does not rid the beleaguered Lebanese people of their accursed leadership, nothing will.
Faisal J. Abbas
The obvious question is, who is to blame? Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his Cabinet are unfairly vilified by both the public and the media, although this is not to say they are doing a good job, or that they should be off the hook for accepting the responsibility when their actions are constrained by the presence of Hezbollah.
If any one group is to blame for the mess in what was once the “Switzerland of the Middle East,” it is the Iran-backed Hezbollah. For too long, these agents of doom have hijacked Lebanon’s opportunities, dreams and aspirations. They decide, unilaterally, to drag the country to war, or to be involved in the affairs of other Arab states. They have been given numerous opportunities to lay down their weapons (which have in any case been redundant since Israel’s withdrawal in 2000) and confine themselves to peaceful politics. Instead they stand accused of assassinating former Prime Minister Rafic Hariri in 2005, for an unnecessary war in 2006, and for the takeover of Beirut in 2008, which may have ended in the direct sense but continues indirectly.
Hezbollah backed Bashar Assad when he slaughtered his own people, they backed the Houthi militias in Yemen when they attacked Saudi civilians, and now they are slowly killing off any hope of Lebanon’s survival as a functioning state.
Many Arab and Western countries have offered help this week, but the truth is that aid will be limited while Hezbollah call the shots. No one wants to be in business with agents of Iran, or to contribute to the wealth of a corrupt political elite. Astutely, when a protester on Thursday urged Emmanuel Macron not to give money to politicians, the French president replied that he was there to help only the Lebanese people.
So what can be done? Realistically, by the good people of Lebanon themselves, probably not much. They could protest for years without breaking Hezbollah’s malign grip or ending decades of inept and corrupt governance.
Hezbollah, the root of this cancer, must be isolated, targeted, and removed. The imminent tribunal verdict on Hariri’s assassination may begin that process, followed by an international “Marshall Plan” for Lebanon conditional on this terrorist group’s eradication.
But let us end on a positive note. If this disaster does not rid the beleaguered Lebanese people of their accursed leadership, nothing will. And the flood of aid already pouring in from countries such as France, Saudi Arabia and the UAE proves that the friends of Lebanon have not given up on it.
Neither should the Lebanese.
• Faisal J. Abbas is the Editor in Chief of Arab News