Lebanon a willing victim as long as the existing system remains
Lebanon on Saturday gave a hero’s welcome to banker and former minister Marwan Kheireddine, who arrived in the country after being named as a suspect in France for his role in the alleged embezzlement scheme set up by Central Bank Governor Riad Salameh. There were so many contradictions in this televised welcome. First and foremost, those surrounding him must be just like all the other Lebanese. They lost their savings to the banking system, yet they cheered for him. This makes no sense. The reality is that, in Lebanon, when you get accused of crimes, you play the confessional card.
In fact, it should be the Lebanese justice system conducting these proceedings and not France. However, this is impossible today as the banking system, even if it is corrupt, is at the core of the Lebanese confessional system. As a result, Lebanon has become a no man’s land where refugees, whether rich or destitute, are stuck. Kheireddine is not the first rich Lebanese to be hailed a hero while being investigated or judged in another country. In 2019, Carlos Ghosn fled Japanese justice, yet in Lebanon he was even considered as a potential presidential candidate. There were others before him. For now, they are all refugees in Lebanon.
Meanwhile, destitute Syrian refugees are also stuck in Lebanon. The currently unfolding events have shown this to be an additional threat to the country’s stability. With calls for their deportation and incidents in the camps holding Syrian refugees, there is the potential for an explosion, especially in the current regional and domestic geopolitical setting.
Viral WhatsApp clips in Lebanon, showing Syrian opposition leader Kamal Al-Labwani and other unknown Syrian figures, have relayed the fragility of Lebanon and highlighted how a new civil war could erupt due to this situation. The threats are direct. This is something new, or at least it has not happened since the Syrian troops left Lebanon in 2005. Indeed, the delivery of these threats is reminiscent of the past, but with a technological spin.
The refugee file is undoubtedly one that the Syrian regime can use to rebalance its relations with Lebanon — a way to bring back the influence it lost over the past decade. Lebanon is part of its set of geopolitical cards and the regime needs it back. This Syrian objective is also noticeable in its fresh involvement in the choice of the next Lebanese president. This is something the Syrian regime can see as a way forward. How will this take place? And will it go through without any major incidents? The threats made on social media by Syrians regarding the stability of Lebanon confirm that the will is there.
The confessional political system that protects billionaire refugees is what makes Lebanon weak
Khaled Abou Zahr
The confessional political system that protects billionaire refugees is what makes Lebanon weak. The threats seen on social media would see the use of this confessional political system to create an incident. This shows how fragile the situation is. Strangely, many of the Lebanese bourgeoisie will condemn the corrupt politicians and the militia. But in reality, they will accept the loss of their Ponzi dollars because they expect their confessional leader to give them total immunity, just like the refugee billionaires. This is what they want for their blind loyalty. As long as they condemn a system while benefiting from it and are accomplices in it, there is little hope for change.
This is exactly why the youth’s “All means all” was a worthy slogan. Because, in Lebanon, you cannot remove a confessional leader without the community losing ground and power — and this is unacceptable to them. This is why the entire system needs to change. Unfortunately, what most people fail to understand is that this power is all artificial and temporarily “rented out.” Even the all-mighty Hezbollah is an artificial power, simply because its power comes from the regional situation and not from within the country. It is the specific regional geopolitical situation that makes it powerful today and its unwinding will most certainly bring it to an end. We have seen it before.
For Lebanon to survive, it cannot have a political system that pits people against each other, while allowing the leaders and their followers to trade off on riches. It does not make sense. Nevertheless, Lebanon has to be respectful and understanding of the geopolitical situation. There is a need to find a way to shift the power-making from outside to inside; to find a new political structure that allows for a political leadership to be aligned with the needs of all the people and not only the influential.
I am always amazed when reading headlines in the Lebanese media, especially on the presidential elections. Questions are raised, such as “Will France accept another candidate?” or “Will regional powers refuse this candidate?” These are simply astonishing. With all due respect, why should anyone have a say in the election of an official besides the local population? How can this be accepted? And so, in order to understand who will become an official, everyone analyses regional meetings. It is time to change this. The fact is that the headache caused by this situation for global and regional powers will eventually promote old solutions that will bring more suffering.
This is why I take seriously the threats of Syrian figures on social media against Lebanon. Believe me, in this game, it does not take long for the situation to explode without us understanding why. There is, unfortunately, little chance of the political powers coming to an understanding regarding a new system. Indeed, the Lebanese bourgeoisie and the influential billionaire refugees are still, despite their condemnations, aligned with them. Hence, Lebanon is once again at risk of being the victim of major shifts. However, it is clearly now a willing victim.
- Khaled Abou Zahr is the founder of Barbicane, a space-focused investment syndication platform. He is the CEO of EurabiaMedia and editor of Al-Watan Al-Arabi.