Lebanon poised to begin a promising new chapter

Lebanon poised to begin a promising new chapter

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Volunteers set out on a clean-up of Beirut’s Gemmayzeh neighborhood. (AFP)

Those of us who have a deep and abiding love for Lebanon are devastated watching this amazing country, which is blessed with so many of God’s gifts, fall to its knees, especially because Lebanon’s descent into darkness is not due to any natural disaster.

We are crying for Lebanon’s beautiful, bustling capital Beirut, much of it now destroyed or damaged by an explosion so massive that its fallout resembled that of a small nuclear bomb. We are crying for the families and friends of all those who lost their lives and for the seriously injured in hospitals. We are crying for the parents hurting from the loss of a child. We are sad for the churches, mosques and hospitals shattered by the blast and feel sorry for those who witnessed their homes and businesses being razed to the ground.

Lebanon was once portrayed as heaven on earth. It is a land that nurtures culture, artistic endeavors, business acumen, and unbreakable family ties. It is a land that bore renowned artists, poets, writers, actors, designers and entrepreneurs, many of whom left in search of greater opportunity. But those who took themselves out of Lebanon soon discovered that Lebanon can never be erased from their hearts.

Lebanese people of all ages outside the country have stood with their homeland, supporting their compatriots irrespective of their religion. In a crisis, they stand united, and for that they should feel very proud. I salute all those who have offered material help according to their means. Many who have given are not wealthy, but they felt duty-bound to make a contribution. I salute these people even as Lebanese billionaires and multi-millionaires, with few exceptions, have yet to come forward.

I have also been touched by the way the Lebanese have opened their homes to strangers so that nobody is destined to sleep on the street, and I highly respect the young people who took it upon themselves to clean up the areas that suffered the effects of the blast. The spirit of the Lebanese following this disaster has been nothing short of inspirational.

People from all corners of the planet have recently expressed their love for Lebanon, as well as their admiration for the way the Lebanese refuse to let life’s knocks, no matter how hard they may be, stifle their natural joie de vivre.

That said, the youths are tired of having to put on a brave face; they want more. They are demanding a new political system that is capable of delivering a future constructed on a solid foundation of stability and security, which can only be achieved when sectarian loyalties come second to patriotism. The day when every son and daughter of Lebanon links arms and says in unison, “We are all proud Lebanese,” will be the dawn of the country’s blossoming.

I have been penning articles for many years pleading with the Lebanese to put their love of the country before all and to work at ridding themselves of their divisive and antiquated confessional political system. The Lebanese know what must be done, but they have been outmaneuvered by the old guard.

Reform is always on the table, and that is where it stays, with promises and pledges conveniently forgotten. This is the reason negotiations with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) on a $10 billion loan collapsed and a virtual donor conference hosted by France and the UN drummed up a mere drop in the ocean. The country is in immediate need of billions, but donor nations insist that aid is conditional upon the implementation of reforms.

This is the moment for the world to pressurize Lebanon into freeing itself from its cancerous political system with demands for a constitutional shakeup. This would allow for free and transparent elections and the appointment of honest, hardworking citizens of all faiths and sects based purely on their qualifications and experience, rather on where they congregate to pray.

The Lebanese must be ready to escape from a crippling political time warp that has inextricably bound religion and state; one that keeps them locked into different — and sometimes feuding — camps. Elections should be closely monitored and verified by international bodies.

On Monday, Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his Cabinet resigned in response to street protests. Still, they will remain as a caretaker government until the people can once again cast their ballots. Hopefully, elections will soon be scheduled and, this time, the Lebanese will choose competent individuals with a clean track record.

No new government has a magic bullet with which to solve problems but, provided its members are open to making reforms and to working with friendly nations like France and many other countries around the world that have Lebanon’s interests at heart, as well as the IMF and the World Bank, the country will ascend to new heights.

A renewed constitution as a prelude to fresh, trustworthy faces in the Cabinet and parliament will open the door to mega-investments so grand that Lebanon will only need short-term loans to begin reconstructing infrastructure and rebuilding its economy.

The spirit of the Lebanese following this disaster has been nothing short of inspirational.

Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor

Financial support from foreign nations is necessary at this juncture, but it is just a temporary respite. Unless the system and those who have been profiting from it for decades are changed, Lebanon could find itself struggling alone. I strongly believe that the people are hungry for change; their patience has run dry and the powers that be understand that.

I am certain that, once the first rung of this ladder is climbed in the form of a revised constitution and new elections, whichever comes first, the whole world will stand with Lebanon. We must all assist the country in resurrecting itself as one nation united under the cedar flag.

I cannot wait for the day when my beloved Lebanon gets back on to a firm footing, enabling its brightest and best to shine. I look forward to experiencing Beirut’s carefree ambience again and to celebrating its reconstruction, just as I did when the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri — a great man whom I considered a friend — rebuilt the capital’s stunning downtown area. In that case, we on the outside looking in should prepare to be astonished. My gut feeling tells me the good days are yet to come, but come they will… and soon.

  • 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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