Our Lebanon awaits its moment of rebirth

Our Lebanon awaits its moment of rebirth

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As with so many troubled romances, Lebanon is the love of my life, which I am unable to live with and also cannot live without. My lifetime has been intimately entwined with this nation’s torments and glories.
Instead of celebrating Lebanon’s centenary, we are beset by warnings of its death as a coherent nation. Each time we believed Lebanon could not fall any further, we awoke to gut-wrenching new tragedies.
I am, nevertheless, heartened by French President Emmanuel Macron’s dogged refusal to give up on Lebanon — as many others have. We Lebanese need someone to believe in us, but we first must believe in Lebanon ourselves.
My childhood was immeasurably happy. As a role model, my mother was a trailblazer for intelligent, change-making women. My time in what was then one of the poorest areas of Beirut, Burj Al-Barajneh, while she built a school, will stay with me forever. Her encouragement to confidently express my opinions paved the way for my career in journalism. Though born a Muslim, I attended church during my time at the American school. I was blissfully unaware of what sects my friends belonged to, but relished Lebanon’s plethora of festivals and national holidays. Lebanon is a nation of minorities.
Students from around the globe — including the offspring of Arab ruling elites — flocked to Lebanon’s world-beating universities, such as the American University of Beirut. We rejoiced in our privileged Lebanese identity; a land of such bountiful natural riches that one could go skiing in the mountains and swimming in warm seas — all in one day.
I fiercely believed in the inevitability of Lebanon as a united, democratic and flourishing nation and, throughout the 1960s and early 1970s, the country progressed at a miraculous rate. With iconic figures like Fairouz and Khalil Gibran, Beirut was the glittering capital of regional culture, while also dominant in banking, tourism and commerce.
Yet Lebanon’s critical shortcomings became glaringly obvious. I reacted with surprise when told that I had passed my driving test five minutes after starting the ignition. The examiner explained that I had already passed before getting in the car — thanks to my husband’s official connections. On election days, I conscientiously dressed to vote, only for my husband to tell me that my ballot had already been cast. Of course I was poised to vote for my uncle’s candidature, but how dare my husband steal my chance at democratic participation.
Lebanon’s plunge toward the 1975 civil war, amid snowballing sectarian tensions, had an aura of inevitability, while also being utterly unthinkable; witnessing everything we knew and loved being destroyed so comprehensively.

Those talking about Lebanon’s ‘death’ are referring to the demise of a discredited order that has long been a dead man walking.

Baria Alamuddin

The country’s overseas diaspora is about five times the size of its domestic population. Its awesome record of success stories includes Carlos Slim — for years the world’s wealthiest man — and cancer research pioneer Philip Salem, along with world-class bankers, lawyers, engineers, journalists, intellectuals, scientists, and CEOs. Why are the Lebanese so unrelentingly successful outside their homeland? Because, in contrast with the corrupt dysfunction back home, they are empowered to realize their potential. Yet many ache to return home if their Lebanon can be restored.
Over the millennia, Lebanon has died many times; yet, like a phoenix rising from the flames, each rebirth of cultural and intellectual accomplishments has been a glory to behold. The literature of all Western languages, including Greek, English, Arabic, Latin, Russian and Hebrew, is written in modified versions of ancient Lebanon’s Phoenician script. The Roman and Persian empires battled each other to exhaustion over Lebanese territory, but the genius of Islamic civilization emerged from the ashes. Crusaders reduced Lebanon to rubble, but departed carrying with them many of the necessary ingredients for Europe’s Renaissance.
Those talking about Lebanon’s “death” are referring to the demise of a discredited order that has long been a dead man walking. Our Lebanon was never intended to be segregated and sectarianized; a place where judicial and bureaucratic appointments are delayed indefinitely to ensure the correct balance of sects, factions, and corrupt beneficiaries. The result is that the worst people from the “best” families acquire key positions, while the deserving candidates disappear overseas. According to this clientelistic logic, you are “clever” if you exploit your position to enrich your family, while you are “stupid” if you remain honest and poor.
Lebanon’s failure to build effective institutions was glaringly obvious after the recent catastrophic Beirut explosion. Grieving citizens were abandoned by the state to clean their own streets and search for bodies. Reconstruction has been a matter of private initiative, sometimes with builders offering their services for free.
This system has become a parasite on the nation’s back, reducing the populace to poverty and near-starvation. This system is long past the point of reform or repair. Lebanon will only survive to 101 years if this system is fundamentally rebuilt, based on merit, civil identity and national sovereignty — with the medieval sectarian and factional quotas eradicated once and for all.
Meanwhile, those hostile powers manipulating Lebanese politics and trampling Lebanon’s diversity in the name of theological orthodoxy must be banished, just like those Persian, Roman and Crusader imperialists of centuries past.
There is an eternal, indomitable quality to the complex, unique strands of Lebanon’s DNA: Its cultural heritage, its breathtaking environment, its national spirit. If Lebanon can’t know peace and unity today, these ingredients are patiently waiting to be woven into place tomorrow.
This is the legacy we can bequeath to our grandchildren. Even if some of them never experience Lebanon in the flesh, they remain Lebanese in their hearts and outlook.
Lebanon is the unconquerable flower that re-emerges after each traumatic winter to bestow its blessings upon us all — dormant seeds awaiting their proper moment of rebirth; of resurrection. Irrespective of the horrors and losses we endure, this is the Lebanese vision that persists in our hearts.

  • Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.
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