The central bank’s foreign currency reserves have almost halved since the onset of the financial crisis. More than $13.4 billion were consumed to maintain a sort of social stability. That is the financial cost of the political class’ incompetence, never mind its colossal economic and social costs.
Since October 2019, the political class could have made choices, taken decisions and introduced reforms. Instead, it has opted to use up the Lebanese people’s money to buy time, tinker around with multiple currency exchange rates that serve to reduce banks’ losses, sustain some importers and feed smuggling, under the guise of a subsidy “policy” that has not benefited those most in need any more than others.
This choice has enabled the country’s key political figures, after being shouted down by protesters just a year and a half ago, to stay in the game and lead a counterrevolution by exploiting the people’s misery to feed the fear of otherness and revive sectarian tension — to deflect from the “Kellon yaaneh kellon” (“All of them means all of them”) slogan to the March 14 – March 8 coalitions’ formula.
They have been so successful in doing so that when the crisis put social cohesion and provision of the most basic services, such as electricity, including generators, at risk — while emigration is altering the country’s demographic structure — the public debate focused on the sole issue disputed between the two camps: Hezbollah’s weapons.
Besides that, they proved that they did not have a problem agreeing on anything else — namely, on how to run the country, at least during the first three years after Michel Aoun’s election as president (supported by March 14’s top figures). Yet, this honeymoon was smashed by the depleted flow of dollars into the country and the Oct. 17 revolution, and was not driven by sovereign motives.
Today’s public opinion is divided to the point that the media are being blamed for doing their job. Those honest journalists, including ourselves, who have raised topics such as the link between the banking sector and politics and reported objectively some facts such as the inquiry initiated against Riad Salameh, are accused of being part of an “orchestrated campaign” and of being Hezbollah’s henchmen. Taking the liberty to question Ghada Aoun’s professionalism will bring us the accusation of being manipulated by the other camp. What is even worse is that this rhetoric is disseminated by pseudointellectuals who do not realize how toxic it is for democracy.
In these pseudointellectuals’ eyes, some challenges are even more urgent than the situation into which the two camps have led the country, and are even more pressing among the Lebanese than hunger, the economic crash, corruption, cronyism and the financial interests that dictate public decisions. For them, there are those who desire to build a Lebanon in their own image; there is an armed Shiite party, backed by some, that is preventing the building of a state. All the while political actors claim to be sharing this same goal of state building.
The monopoly on arms is certainly a pillar of state legitimacy, but is it the only one? Shouldn’t the state protect both its border and the economic and social rights of its citizens, i.e., their access to education, health care, employment and housing? Unfortunately, Hezbollah performs all these roles. However, have the other community leaders — each according to their own ability and the means they have at their disposal — not built their political legitimacy on the provision of services, from health care, to education, privileges and even the COVID-19 vaccines today, mostly at the expense of the public debt? How can we expect those who have not taken the time or put in the effort to lay a solid state foundation since the end of the Civil War be eager to do so now? How can we expect those who, with a veneer of liberal economy and incentives for private initiatives, have made a fortune out of their investments in thriving sectors at the taxpayers’ expense, including the banking and real estate sectors, to bring about change in the current state of affairs?
The proof is that beyond the slogans, neither camp is able today to set up a political project. Hezbollah’s camp promises its public that the party will give up its weapons when the state is able to protect the party — while at the same time making sure it never is.
On the other side, those who bet for a long time on a foreign intervention, setting aside their principles of sovereignty, are watching their dreams slowly slipping away with the détente in the region, and they have no alternative to suggest other than a civil war. Or a status quo. They repeatedly ask, “Where is the state?” — of which they have been the primary component for so long — to remind their community that they are the only ones who can protect them. Neither camp is willing to carry out sweeping reforms for the purpose of rebuilding trust and restoring citizens’ allegiance to the state. The best thing they can do at this point is agree on some of the measures that the international community requires so as to bring dollars into the country.
We are not among those who perceive that there is a sovereign camp on the one hand and an armed one on the other. In our eyes, there are those who continue to hold on to a system that failed miserably and those willing to defend the interests of Christians, Shiites, Sunnis and Druze by recognizing and dealing with them as equal citizens who would all have the same rights and obligations.
This article was originally published in French in Le Commerce du Levant. Translation by Joelle El Khoury.
The central bank’s foreign currency reserves have almost halved since the onset of the financial crisis. More than $13.4 billion were consumed to maintain a sort of social stability. That is the financial cost of the political class’ incompetence, never mind its colossal economic and social costs.Since October 2019, the political class could have made choices, taken decisions and introduced...