My message to the Lebanese: Stay strong and you will triumph

My message to the Lebanese: Stay strong and you will triumph

Lebanese school students wave the national flag during an anti-government protest in the northeastern Lebanese town of Arsal, in the Bekaa valley. (AFP)

Lebanon has always been close to my heart, and today I am proud to stand with those Lebanese who are protesting against the criminal political class that has bled the country’s coffers dry and stifled opportunities for generations. They have shown that they will no longer be played for fools.
As long as I can remember, Lebanon’s government has been in the strangulating grip of sectarian mafia bosses protected by armed militias that are obliged to pretend allegiance to the Iranian-funded godfather Hassan Nasrallah, Hezbollah’s secretary general, in order to maintain their vast wealth and power. But their gravy train is poised to crash and burn.
Lebanon’s youth has woken up to the deceit of these slick-talking peddlers of fake hope, who together have led the nation down a road to ruin. The veil has dropped from their eyes. They can no longer be fooled by political dynasties or those with weighty overseas bank accounts living securely behind the walls of hilltop palaces.
I salute each one of you who has courageously taken to the streets in a peaceful bid to overthrow a government stuffed with inept, corrupt dinosaurs whose only interest is self-interest. These same tired faces have been vying for a piece of the pie since the end of the civil war in 1990 and, if left to them, their sons would inherit their mantle. Fat-cat politicians in Lebanon do not see their role as a patriotic duty to serve the nation and its people, but rather a lucrative job for life.
On their watch, youth unemployment has reached the untenable level of 40 percent, forcing graduates to seek greener pastures abroad. There is zero economic growth and the country’s debt burden, which exceeds 150 percent of gross domestic product, is unsustainable. Adding to people’s woes are regular electricity cuts, severe shortages in water and medicines, and mountains of rotting garbage disfiguring the landscape.
Watching good-natured, fiesta-like gatherings, where Lebanese of all ages and religious persuasions stand shoulder-to-shoulder, speaking with one voice under the cedar flag, is inspirational and portends the demise of sectarianism — the cause of so much enmity and violence.

Fat-cat politicians do not see their role as a patriotic duty to serve the nation and its people, but rather a lucrative job for life.

Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor

Hezbollah’s attack dogs were unleashed into the crowds as a disruptive force, but were called off once their efforts were met with strong resistance. Supporters of President Michel Aoun’s Free Patriotic Movement, which is allied with Hezbollah and the Amal Movement, called for Aoun to remain in office. Nasrallah initially ordered the government to remain in place while warning of an impending civil war. Such scare tactics only served to harden the protesters’ resolve.
Societal divisions have been greatly exacerbated by a sectarian political system that was bequeathed by the French colonial mandate and reaffirmed by the Taif Agreement, which sealed the end of the civil war by ensuring political representation is shared among the various sects that make up Lebanon’s rich religious tapestry.
This ill-conceived system is not only a recipe for disunity; it often translates to the best man or woman for the job being excluded solely due to their faith. Lebanon needs more than a new government, it needs a complete overhaul of its political system. The new system should allow for candidates to be chosen according to their merit, not their religion — and that is what the good Lebanese people are now demanding.
The people insist on a government that represents them and is chosen by them. So far, they have succeeded in unseating the Cabinet led by Prime Minister Saad Hariri, who, after a last-ditch attempt at promising reforms, resigned. Bravo to the people. You did it.
That said, danger still lurks on the horizon. Hariri now leads a caretaker Cabinet and, according to the Daily Star, he is willing to once again head a government on condition that it includes technocrats qualified to stave off economic collapse. He is the leader who, upon his resignation, said he had reached “a dead end.” In that case, he should be sufficiently dignified to announce his permanent retirement. Hariri should walk into the sunset together with his colleagues — failures all.
My message to the Lebanese is this: Please do not allow the current leadership to derail your demands using the “collapse of the economy” or “the devaluation of the Lebanese pound” as warning flags. If the old guard had any decency, it would heed your wishes and move aside to make room for qualified fresh faces with innovative ideas, who would be able to restore confidence and thus attract much-needed investment.
Do not permit those glued to their chairs for decades to slow down the creation of a new government to a snail’s pace in the hope you will return to a state of political slumber. Keep up the good fight for your rights and your future while there is momentum. Do not be mesmerized by master hypnotists out to lull you into a false sense of security. This is your chance. Grab it.
Last but not least, avoid placing your trust in any foreign nation because they do not have your best interests at heart. The idea of heroes on white horses riding in to save the day is nothing more than an illusion. All are out for their own benefit, so do not be tempted to exchange one set of masters for another. The only way to save your beloved Lebanon is to take matters into your own hands. Stay strong and determined and, with the grace of God, you will be triumphant.

  • Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor is a prominent UAE businessman and public figure. He is renowned for his views on international political affairs, his philanthropic activity, and his efforts to promote peace. He has long acted as an unofficial ambassador for his country abroad. Twitter: @KhalafAlHabtoor
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