Lebanese know there is little Macron, Biden can do for them
Until a few years ago, the visit of a French president to the US was analyzed in the streets of Beirut as if the entire trip was about the future of Lebanon. The news and insider information would be shared as if Lebanon was the top priority of the summit. Some might add spice to it by stating that the two world leaders had called a local politician to inform him of the outcome. I cannot recall how many times Lebanon buzzed with news of a mythical decision about its fate during summits between the two most powerful countries in the world.
The news would always be in the form of an absolute; a miraculous uplift to the forces of opposition or a catastrophic end. The first formulation would be that they had agreed on removing Hezbollah’s weapons and imposing all the UN resolutions on Syria to make Lebanon a free and independent country. Variations of this news could include regime change in both Syria and Iran and a green light for Israel to strike militarily.
The second formulation would go the absolute opposite way. It would claim that the Western leaders had decided to deliver the country to Hezbollah and Iran. Variations of this version might include that Christians would be relocated elsewhere or that Lebanon was a reward for the nuclear deal that was about to be signed.
Depending on the global geopolitical situation and how local forces were positioned each time, people would choose the most plausible version. It would always include a line of truth or the repetition of a past event or conflict resolution somewhere else. Funnily enough, in both there was a constant, which was the recognition of Israel by Lebanon and a peace agreement. Unfortunately or fortunately, there are no absolutes in the Middle East.
This time around, as French President Emmanuel Macron visits his US counterpart, the rumor mill is strangely inactive among the Lebanese. Besides a few headlines, no one is speculating on a change in Lebanon or even that the topic will be seriously mentioned in Washington. Everyone knows that there are much more important topics, starting with the energy situation in Europe and probably ending with a reset of EU-US relations. The Lebanese also notice that they are no longer the favorite international image of modernity and freedom against oppression — they lost this spot to the Ukrainians.
This loss of priority on the global stage mirrors the general mood of the Lebanese domestically. It is a mood of renunciation. Moreover, the de facto situation resembles the second outcome of an Iranian occupation. And despite the fact that Lebanese and their state are even more under the thumb of Hezbollah, they are silent regarding this oppression. Despite the fact that the economic, financial, social and healthcare situation is catastrophic, they are silent against the ones responsible. It is as if they have given up on resisting and fighting this occupation. Despair has set in.
One could have imagined that the protests in Iran might ignite something in Lebanon. This has not been the case. It is maybe because they have tried this route many times, every time unsuccessfully. This is the ruthlessness of the occupation; it removes even the light of hope. And hope is the engine of change, not despair. Protests against Hezbollah from its own community, even if it is suffering as much as all the others, cannot and will not happen. The balance between minorities acts as a protection even there.
This time around, as the French president visits his US counterpart, the rumor mill is strangely inactive
Khaled Abou Zahr
Nothing shows the desperation better than the series of bank holdups and sit-ins by ordinary people. They have to become criminals to reclaim their own deposits. The objective is no longer to build a better future, fight for freedom or any such grandiose goal. It is only to survive; to get through the next day; to be able to put food on the table and give proper healthcare to their loved ones.
This is happening at a critical time, as the country is in the process of choosing its next president. The continuous deadlock and stalling have been artificially created by Hezbollah. While Lebanese despair, Hezbollah is looking to silence any potential threat to its dominance once and for all. And there is the broader fear of Hezbollah backing its ally the Free Patriotic Movement against Samir Geagea’s Lebanese Forces as a way to achieve its goals. Also, as Hezbollah’s patron Iran is cornered domestically, increasing its hold on the Mediterranean for leverage makes even more sense.
And so, beyond declarations and expressions of sympathy, there is little that the Lebanese expect from Macron or US President Joe Biden. They now understand that there is little change they could bring to their situation. Yet, they are still dreaming and waiting for the absolute geopolitical bullet that will save them. Just as they dream that the gas deal with Israel will solve the economic situation and bring back their deposits. This adds to their despair.
This is a grave mistake. Not one historical cycle that Lebanon has gone through has brought them this deliverance. And in practice, all the gas deal has achieved is to increase Hezbollah’s status, much like most agreements with Israel. So, the only lesson we can learn from all these cycles and other arenas is that the outcome is decided on the ground in Lebanon and not in international capitals.
• Khaled Abou Zahr is chief executive of Eurabia, a media and tech company, and editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.