Nov 26, 2020
Lebanon in crisis: is there an exit?

The Beirut Blast of August 4 is the manifestation of the major governance failure of the state institutions. 


Both Corruption and negligence disabled the main agencies from doing their job properly; even the reaction and the response of the state agencies indicated the extent to which the public institutions are paralyzed and dysfunctional, there was no coordination, weak responsiveness and lack of a clear vision. Thanks to the local and international civil society and global agencies and the coordination led by the UN agencies, people managed to get the minimum required needs and recovery. 


It is worth mentioning, that the bar association with other syndicates (contractors, engineers, auditors, etc.) managed also to play a coordination role, mainly in assessing the damages and removing the robbers in a professional way and rehabilitate few houses highlighting the importance of the role of civil society institutions and groups.


Despite this sad reality, the ruling elite keeps on doing business as usual, which is very clear in the negotiations held to form the governments;


first with the appointed PM Moustafa Adib, who failed to form an independent government as per the requirements of the initial French initiative, and the demand of the lebanese people, (because the national unity government and this for male of powers sharing have low popularity) and this is, by the way, the important result of the uprising where people don’t appreciate any more power sharing namely by appointing Saad Hariri who is one of the main responsible of the failure; to remind us, Mr. Hariri was the PM in October 17, his government imposed the taxation law and is responsible of the looming economic collapse that prompted the uprising, Mr. Hariri decided to resign after the rejection of the reform he proposed on October 21st by the protestors involved in the uprising.


The pressure that the political elite is doing now, is to form “the government of national unity” based on the power sharing equation. They insist to be all represented. The way they conduct negotiations around the distribution of the portfolios among them, shows their way of thinking and the intention to keep on protecting their proper interests and of the interests of their crones and clients.


The government of national unity (which is basically the consociational government) is the demand of the international community assuming that this will help in adopting the reform agenda and implement it. The reason is that they are in the parliament and they can vote for the suggested reforms or reject them;


Although this political elite is the main responsible for the failure because of their corruption they even lost legitimacy in October 17, they are not representing the political will and aspirations of the Lebanese people anymore but they still have the legal status. 


The Lebanese people gained legitimacy since October 17, when hundreds of thousands went to the streets in the different regions of Lebanon and with different political and social backgrounds, but now they don’t have the legality, this is the main reason behind the political stagnation that we are witnessing nowadays. 


They are literally occupying the state, practicing grave violations of the constitutional law and many other laws. (for example Amal and Hezbollah insist to keep the ministry of finance under their control, the same two parties insist to nominate all the Shia ministers in the government, which is anti-constitutional), 


October 17 was a turning point in Lebanon, it unified Lebanon and the Lebanese, some say that it was the factual end of the Lebanese war. This explains the aggressive reaction of the parties in power, namely “the alliance between the mafia and the militias”. They severely suppressed popular uprising using different tools including direct assault, pressure on the space for freedoms basically freedom of assembly and freedom of expression. They mobilized intruders to sabotage the manifestations.


The key demands of the October 17 uprising went far beyond the resignation of the government, it was asking for a deep political and systemic changes towards the civil state (in other words to end sectarianism and the power sharing formula among the community representatives and create a secular system starting from adopting a new electoral law and the civic code besides other reforms). 


The priority of the uprising was given to nominate an independent government of transition with some legislative authorities to realize the above mentioned agenda. Unfortunately, the fast deterioration of the social and economic conditions, the scale of the pandemic spread in addition to the severe suppression in different forms slowed down the uprising. Not to forget the geopolitical and regional contexts where Lebanon is in the middle between an occupation from one side and a civil war from the other side. Moreover, the region witnesses a complicated geopolitical struggle among global and regional actors with a high influence inside lebanon. 


Nowadays, the negotiations to form a new government are ongoing! It is obvious that the process led by the traditional elite goes towards the creation of “a government of national unity” while the popular movement opposes and rejects any form of power sharing and is asking to go back to the initial demands of the revolution which is to form “an independent government of transition with some legislative authorities” to fulfil at least two main tasks: 

·       The First task is to adopt a new electoral law and conduct free and democratic elections organized by an independent commission with an international observation. The law should be based on the constitution, i.e. adopt a secular electoral law to elect a parliament free from sectarian representation and to create a second chamber, the senate, to represent the different legally recognized sects in lebanon. The senate aims at protecting the rights and interests of the different sects.

·       The Second task will be to adopt the administrative decentralization law securing the equal and just development and prosperity among the regions, something very needed in a highly centralized system.

In addition, the uprising demands the adoption of an urgent reform agenda and implement a social protection system to assist and protect people from the mounting needs and threats due to the humanitarian, economic, social, monetary crisis. The aim will be to address the high percentage of poverty which is more than 60%, unemployment which exceeds 30%, inflation rate that became more than 115%, besides the health conditions and obstacles to education in times of the pandemic as well as the food security threatened by the inability to import goods with the lack of foreign currency 


It is worth noting that these reforms don’t require any constitutional amendment; on the contrary, they are included in the constitution of 1990 but were never implemented, it was the same elite who prevented their implementation.


A number of political groups, some of them existed before the uprising, others are newly established after October 17, are trying to create coalitions and fronts. There is a coordination with the professional syndicates, such as the bar association, the engineers, medical doctors, pharmacists, and the main academic non-profit establishments and universities, along with trade unions and labor unions, and others. The aim is to create a new balance of power between the people's movement and the ruling elites to achieve the two above mentioned big but important objectives.


The intention is to create a strong coalition with fairly good representation and take the lead to exert more pressure and defy the current system. The recovery of the state and probably the stolen assets, is primordial as well as the liberation of the public institutions from all forms of clientelism and nepotism.


These groups are planning to elaborate policy alternatives basically the economic and social dimensions. The challenge is to move towards a productive and redistributive economic system. They are also conducting open national dialogue around the needed political reform to phase out from the crisis. 


It is worth noting that rethinking the whole economic and social approaches. The social dimensions won't be perceived as a by-product of the economic growth and social policies. It is important to widen the perspective from implementing safety nets programs to a more comprehensive social protection system with universal coverage including different social groups, sectors and regions.


The international community and the solidarity movements and groups have a role to play mainly by supporting this emerging stream. It goes without saying that the collapse of Lebanon will create serious threats to the region and the whole Mediterranean. Lebanon is hosting more than one million Syrian refugees, and around 500 thousand officially registered Palestinian refugees (maybe only 180 thousand remain living in different parts of lebanon but the others don’t lose their rights as refugees registered in Lebanon even if they live abroad) 


Finally, it is important to underline that any external pressure and sanctions can enormously help, but they will never have the expected results unless they rely on a strong local movement able to break the status-quo and lead the nation towards real changes and this is why the plan is to create such a coalition or a movement in the coming future.


Ziad Abdel Samad 


Presented in “caabu online panel discussion”.