If the government stops subsidising many essentials, Lebanon will head towards a new crisis. Could this new low be the spark for a revolution that ushers in a new political system?
‘Abyss’ and ‘Heart of Darkness’ are awful clichés often overused by journalists in hotspots around the world. Lebanon now is so close to anarchy and a state of military emergency that these well-worn phrases are no doubt about to be dusted down and put to good use in the coming weeks.
As months have passed where the currency appears to be in freefall, central bank reserves have disappeared and brawls in supermarkets have become the norm on our social media timelines, this tiny country is heading now towards a cataclysm which might be the tipping point for radical change.
Curse of Lebanon
The ‘resilient’ Lebanese have had to cope with food shortages, an imploding health sector, shortages of drugs and gasoline and of course their own savings robbed from beneath their eyes from an elite made up of militia gangsters who are presently enjoying a renaissance of both power and relevance in a country once called the “Switzerland of the Middle East”.
But the curse of Lebanon hasn’t even really fully reached its ultimate potential.
Many worry that it’s only a matter of time before the caretaker government has no choice but to scrap some government subsidies, which would have a devastating impact on the state of law and order and how the country functions.
Critical subsidies on gasoline, foodstuffs like flour and many pharmaceuticals can no longer be sustained by the bankrupt state under the caretaker government led by an aging turncoat President Michel Aoun – allied to Hezbollah – and a cavernously weak Sunni Prime Minister Saad Hariri.
Both men cling onto posts in the vague hope that the Lebanese people will magically give them more prominence and support amidst a new crisis.
Something’s got to give and yet the gamble that Aoun and Hariri are banking on is very unlikely to go their way as Hezbollah takes an even firmer grip of the nation and international players play a depraved game of Russian roulette with the lives of thousands of people.
In the midst of a new wave of chronic shortages, Saudi Arabia deliberately refuses to send a penny of aid under the present circumstances of these two puppet Hezbollah leaders supporting Iran’s hegemony in the tiny country.
Few Lebanese even believe anymore that Hariri is even a staunch opponent of the Iranian-backed Shiite militia which assassinated his father. But what are the alternatives? What can they do?
The US, in its own cruel game, also withholds vital aid as it wants a southern border deal signed with Israel and thinks bringing the Lebanese to their knees will infuse one.
Lebanon needs a new political system altogether, one that is secular and focussed on restoring credibility around the globe to counter the view that Lebanon is so corrupt that any loans to it will be swallowed by crooked politicians and turn the aid program into a catastrophe.
Recently a $55 million World Bank loan to save a lake from pollution resulted in hundreds of dead fish washing up on its shores. The standoff between the World Bank and the Lebanese elite now over a $250 million food aid rescue loan is based on the same worries.
In the coming weeks, Lebanon is going to change for the worse once again. There will be victims, deaths even, all because of a corrupt system of political hostage-taking which is still – remarkably – prevailing, against all odds.
And a new level of crisis might well be the spark ignites a series of events which ushers a new system in.
In 2022, we could be looking at a new presidential voting system altogether which will scrap the tawdry present one where MPs – perhaps the most corrupt people in the entire country – get to vote for the president himself.
While it’s true that many Lebanese didn’t break away from their traditional political clans, there is another school of thought which says that this trend has its limitations.
Already some people in Lebanon are noticing how the leaders of these old groups -- which were formed during the civil war but emerged stronger in peacetime due to a corruption sharing pact that bankrupted the country -- are revelling in the chaos.
Yet even if these aging, outdated leaders continue to remain in power, none of them have a solution to rebuilding even the minutia of a failed economy and attracting foreign investment; none of them knows how to govern in a modern sense.
Arab Spring and veggies soldiers
As the anniversary of the Arab Spring is still in our minds, many will think of the incident which created it. A young man, infuriated by a corrupt policeman who stole his fruit stand, snapped.
It’s entirely feasible a similar incident can be the starter’s pistol for a population of people who are armed with weapons and can’t afford to buy a bag of sugar or a tube of toothpaste. The possibility of this happening is so much greater in Lebanon than in Tunisia as it is a crowded cauldron of religious groups with many scores to settle.
Lebanon presently has a practically vegan army whose soldiers earn $100 a month, a new generation of people who walk everywhere or cycle, cheaper foodstuffs in shops and traditional militia leaders whose only hope of clinging on to power – they believe – is through anarchy.
If the government halts subsidies journalists will have a field day with their clichés. A state of emergency, controlled by the army, is a real option.
The worst one is that even Aoun cannot orchestrate or control that and the “chaos” that the traditional leaders yearn for will come. Expect the cliché that these leaders “should be careful what they wish for”.
Poor Lebanon. Pity the nation whose only options involve investing in the past and looking backwards as none of these clowns even has ephemeral theories even on paper how to rebuild the country, while Hezbollah gets stronger every day which passes – as Iran’s dollars have more buying power.
If Hariri, Aoun, Berri, Gaegae, Basil and Jumblatt are the answer, one has to ask how long can they convince their supporters that they are the future, when those same citizens will soon be fighting over black market UN food coupons as hunger itself becomes the latest bargaining chip in the depraved world of Lebanese politics.
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