Lebanon needs idealism, not pragmatism
Lebanon has long been described as the Switzerland of the Middle East; however, it actually has more in common with France. Lebanon, like France, is more than a country — it is an idea and a history, an idea of exceptionalism and a love story, but it is also a story of war that unfortunately ends badly. Above all, it will never be a neutral country. This Greater Lebanon, whose centenary is commemorated on Tuesday and which was so criticized, nevertheless gave a lot and enlightened the Middle East and the Arab world with its diversity and openness. A whole generation of prominent figures from the Arab world will tell you that they traveled for the first time to Lebanon and there learned for the first time about political ideologies, among many other firsts.
That was Lebanon — a first for the Arab world after hundreds of years under Ottoman rule; a first bustling lesson in living together and accepting diversity and the exchange of opinions and ideas. Unfortunately, it is now turning into a final lesson as it plunges into darkness. There is no need to tell this story (many know it and would tell it much better than I) or to look back on the civil war, whose echoes strongly resound today. The stabbing of this small country that is bigger than its borders never ceased. The Syrian occupation, with its extraction of freedom and wealth, was followed by the current occupation by Hezbollah. This is an armed militia that holds hostage a country of innovators, creators, entrepreneurs, scoffers, cynics, and chauvinists, but builders and good people.
Today, French President Emmanuel Macron’s visit is very symbolic, not only by its date but also given the state of the country. He seems to have a deep will to help Lebanon. But what does he really hope to accomplish in the land of the cedars? Does he really think he can save it? The reality is that Lebanon cannot be saved by any pragmatic policy, which seems to be a description of Macron’s foreign policy. Lebanon can only be saved by an idealistic policy that nears wishful thinking.
To help Lebanon before saving it, we must begin by re-establishing its sovereignty. It does not require a new government to provide temporary stability. Even if all its ministers did not belong to the old parties, once the government is formed, how would it lead the country into reforms when a parallel state exists; when all the sensitive decisions go against the interests of the state that is Hezbollah?
The Lebanon that the Lebanese dream of — a Lebanon that is open to all religions and ideas and where trade flourishes — cannot exist as long as Hezbollah and its allies hold power. For the country to start a new page of prosperity, this militia must be disarmed. Indeed, Lebanon needs to be saved, but first it must be rescued from this armed group that holds it hostage and pursues policies of assassination and violence. We will not be able to build a new Lebanon until the use of force is the monopoly of the state. Today, violence and even barbarism is the monopoly of an armed group supervised by the Iranians. I am afraid Macron will end up choosing pragmatism over the ideal.
The Lebanon that the Lebanese dream of cannot exist as long as Hezbollah and its allies hold power
Khaled Abou Zahr
As the date of the US presidential elections approaches and the Europeans seek to renew their relations with the Iranian regime, with the aim of resuming the trade exchanges of the years the nuclear agreement was in force, the risks are great for France to accompany Lebanon on its profound change. There are fears that Lebanese exceptionalism will disappear forever.
Despite the declarations of some analysts, Hezbollah is not a Lebanese party: It is an armed group made up of Lebanese people obeying Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei’s orders. It is time for it to give up its arsenal, let its community be free, and allow the state’s sovereignty to be reborn. France is free to conduct relations with Iran as well as with Arab countries, but to accept and politically legitimize Tehran’s armed militias in Lebanon for the purpose of negotiations means dooming that country to the sound of a Fairuz song. It may be my Parisian cynicism or my Lebanese mistrust, but I have a feeling that history will remember that Lebanon was born on Sept 1, 1920, with High Commissioner Henri Gouraud and that it died on Sept. 1, 2020, with President Macron.
We live in a time when pragmatism is used as a justification for all policies, but this pragmatism is another way of describing the abandonment of our values and our principles and, above all, not facing up to the threats to our freedom. The Lebanese make sacrifices for this freedom every day, but regional pragmatism and interests plunge it into violence with each new cycle. Today it is Iran via its tool Hezbollah but, who knows, maybe tomorrow it will be Turkey.
The French president’s visit cannot be for the mere formation of a government. This is not worthy of the role of France nor of the aspirations of the Lebanese. Macron’s intervention must be decisive because Lebanon does not need a French proposal for a government of national unity or anything similar. It is such palliative solutions that have led us to this situation. Lebanon needs an electric shock. The Lebanese are waiting for the truth and for action that ensures a military group cannot control their country. Is the French president able to initiate this change? Does France have the means to support it when it is already struggling against Turkey?
The path toward a renewal of diversity for Lebanon therefore begins with the disarmament of Hezbollah. This is not a resistance group but a military tool in the hands of the Iranians. Let us stop being accommodating to the nefarious forces in this region. Let us stop accepting diktats from rogue states, whether Iranian or Turkish. The submission to this kind of intimidation is incomprehensible. While everyone in the Middle East fears a new Sykes-Picot, we should worry more about an ersatz of the Munich Agreement or Molotov-Ribbentrop Pact.
The Lebanon that all Lebanese dream of cannot be built if the country is being held hostage. Reforms cannot begin when a group is above the state and its citizens. The principles of freedom are then flouted, as is its sovereignty, and it is this freedom that is the strength of the Lebanese. The action of a French president who has decided to commit to Lebanon must support the country’s true independence and nothing else. The Lebanese are ready.
- Khaled Abou Zahr is the CEO of Eurabia, a media and tech company. He is also the editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.