quotes A diplomat’s guide to Lebanon

11 June 2022
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Updated 12 June 2022

A diplomat’s guide to Lebanon

Lebanon is not a mystery; it is, in fact, a country of revealed secrets. Everyone claims to know the least about anything, and everyone speaks with no boundaries. Maybe it is the scourge of absolute freedom.

Lebanon is also a complex country; every event is politicized. You can add the word politics after every single word or event. To understand its fickle nature, we have to unravel many layers to delve into the core of the issue. In most cases, the event is faster than the process of deconstruction, leading to boredom or exhaustion, or both.

A diplomatic mind does not have the luxury of an academic or the freedom of a journalist. In a country where politics changes more than the weather, flexibility in understanding and deducing is essential. This means a diplomat in this country must differentiate between tales and information, interests and beliefs, acquaintances and companions, friends and allies. Each has a job, a relationship, and a special language, let alone the opponents. A diplomat should not get bogged down in details while, at the same time, avoiding superficiality and floating.

There are 10 key points that are essential to understanding Lebanon:

First, external interference is real. Lebanon has always attracted the intervention of foreign countries in its internal affairs, and the political parties act on this basis, driven by the sectarian quota system that is being implemented in the state. If something is made in Lebanon, know that it is an exception.

Second, weapons and their acquisition are a public culture before it is a political issue. The role of weapons and their use to achieve gains and interests is practiced and agreed upon according to the position of each party and not according to government decisions. What regulates weapons and their function is not the media or international resolutions but, rather, the inclusion of weapons in the country’s political practice through dialogue.

In a country where politics changes more than the weather, flexibility in understanding and deducing is essential.

Tariq F. Zedan

Third: Learn geography, not sects. Lebanon is a personality, not just an identity. It is also known that people living in the mountains differ from those living on the coast in terms of attitude and personality. People of the south are different than the people of the north, especially with their mood swings. Even if connected by a sect or a religion, geography is an important factor.

Fourth: Balances, then balances, then balances, then numbers. Lebanon is a country of sectarian balance par excellence, and foreign countries deal with Lebanon from this perspective. For example, if your ally wins the majority number of seats in parliament, this majority will not be effective if it is of one sect. This does not imply neglecting numbers, you need to watch and consider numbers, but they are less effective.

Fifth, the state is structurally weak, but the country is strategically valuable. While corruption is rampant in the artery of the state, resulting in its power being challenged constantly, do not be fooled because this image does not extend to the country itself. The geopolitical role of Lebanon remains strategic. A fine line demonstrates this, called balances, as mentioned in point four.

Sixth, there is no constant except for variability. We are talking about political alliances, not a change in the standpoints of politicians, as all alliances have a start date and an expiry date. Looking back at the modern history of Lebanon, there was an expiry date for the Chehabism versus the alliance (the era of presidents Fouad Chehab and Charles Helou), then isolationism versus progressiveness in the 1970s.

Then it turned into a national movement (the Palestinians and the Left party) and a Lebanese resistance (the Lebanese Forces and Kataeb parties at that time). After that, it turned into two parties after the Taif Agreement in 1989, with and against the Syrian custodianship era, finally leading to March 14 and March 8 movements.

Seventh, the Taif Agreement from a Lebanese politician’s perspective. The agreement will be read in terms of political practice, not written texts. The National Accord Agreement, which is its real name, took the conflict out of the street into indoor negotiations in 1989. It was implemented by external intervention in 1990 (the day the Syrian warplanes bombed the presidential palace in Baabda), and was activated through a system parallel to the official state agencies. A system that UN Resolution 1559 could not abolish. Remember practice and custom, then texts and constitution.

Eighth, the inverted pyramid of power. The success of allies in the elections does not mean your success. Every party has the right to veto, charter and parity. For this reason, Lebanon deserves the title of consensual democracy with merit and superiority as it uses elections to represent power and then dialogue skills to exercise power because the pyramid is inverted.

Ninth, Beirut is the information capital of the Middle East. The statements of the Lebanese parties in their press and media can be considered an indicator of local and regional developments. According to that, all countries deal with journalists and media professionals in this country. Therefore, following up on the press and media is an obligation.

Finally, we get to the point that some people repeatedly ask: What are the conditions in Lebanon and the security situation? The direct answer opens the door to a local interpretation of interference. In the style of Lebanese politicians, the strategy of answering a question with another question is strongly recommended. Meaning that, if the question is: Is the situation in Beirut dangerous? The answer would be: Since when was it safe? Until someone realizes the trick. Then the question turns to how it is possible to predict or analyze what is happening in this country? Then get back to the points above.

Tariq F. Zedan is a writer and analyst of public policy and international affairs.