Is Lebanon condemned to an endless drift or endless purgatory
Since Aug. 4, 2020 — the day of the tragedy at the port of Beirut — many have looked on at Lebanon’s pain, a slow agony so deeply inscribed in its contemporary history that many are unaware that Lebanon was once the peaceful and prosperous Switzerland of the Middle East.
Much has been written on the causes of this drift: Exacerbated confessionalism, corruption and haphazard governance. The country is also the favourite arena of the internal struggles of its powerful, vampiric neighbours.
Almost six months after the dramatic explosion, Lebanon has made little headway on the path to institutional reconstruction.
It appears totally illusory to think that we can solve the problem of Lebanon from within Lebanon.
The businessman Omar Harfouch, a Lebanese living in Paris, has launched the crazy gamble of forming a government of exile.
His observation is clear: Lebanon is ruled by at least 6 oligarchs, each of them accompanied by at least 60,000 “followers” , or sycophant ,who owe their positions to that individual, securing their futures and that of their families.
In addition to this caste of oligarchs, there are also important people who, be they deputies or ministers or shrewd businessmen, repeat the same pattern of courtiers and maintenance obligations on a smaller scale.
Such people have no interest in changing the system which continues from generation to generation, a sort of inheritance of mediocrity, rather than meritocracy.
Harfouch is proposing a program of immediate actions, with the aim of restoring the confidence of the exhausted Lebanese. He agitates on social media and talks about placing the Lebanese Central Bank under supervision, freezing the assets of oligarchs abroad, and setting up an authority for the transparency of public life, with an obligation to declare assets, based on the model of the French High Authority for Transparency in Public Life. He has even met with its president, Didier Migaud, to discuss how cooperation might work.
Then will follow the measures with the financial institutions, an agreement with the IMF and a supervised donors’ conference to prevent international generosity from financing corruption. This fight against corruption will inevitably finance the fight against poverty, a real issue facing the country.
Then the time will come for demilitarization, and the end of private militias. After the shock of immediate financial measures, Lebanon will also require institutional changes and the advent of a secular “Third Republic,” a new voting system, universal suffrage and a new social covenant.
Governance free from corruption and sectarianism is how Lebanon will find its place back at the table of Nations. What if Harfouch’s ideas are the way forward? His statements have reached millions already, and he’s starting petitions to ferment new measures on change.org.
French President Emmanuel Macron failed to help start reform, because he based his policies on the surviving and corrupt shreds of the country, instead of seeking new people.
In doing so, he was unable to secure the support of a breathless and hopeless people, or the political class.
The president “oxygenated” and restored great families, like the Hariri’s, thus prolonging the country’s agony.
The reality is that no one from within Lebanon will be able to reform it or face the militias that attack all those who want to end their privileges. It must come from elsewhere.
- Nathalie Goulet is a senator for Orne. Twitter: @senateur61