Since its inception in 1920, the Lebanese state’s geographical area has never exceeded 10,452 square kilometers. Despite this, the country seemed to have transcended its boundaries on many occasions over the past century.
The international and regional interest that has been directed toward the tiny nation has appeared at times incongruent with its physical proportions and lack of natural resources.
Yet, Beirut was the place to be for those wishing to understand the latest developments in the region. Beirut was home to prominent artists, writers, journalists and businessmen throughout its history. It was in Beirut that ideas were born and oftentimes disseminated throughout the Arab world.
Unfortunately, those days are gone.
This is not an attempt to draw an analogy between the past and the present, to evoke a fatalist sense of nostalgia. It is a call to see reality as it is, and not as we would like it to be, so that we may adapt to it as quickly as possible.
We Lebanese often find ourselves grappling with the ill-fated inclination to believe that the world — whether it ever truly did or not — revolves around us. But the reality is that the rest of the world remains largely indifferent to tiny Lebanon.
Undoubtedly, some international stakeholders view Lebanon as a strategic spot given its proximity to Israel, and considering Hezbollah’s presence in the country. Meanwhile, some hold a sentimental attachment to the country.
Yet, in a broad sense, Lebanon’s allure has faded for the most part.
Western powers —with the exception of the French — and Arab neighbors alike have grown weary of Lebanon’s never-ending local conflicts, its deep-seated allergy to reform, and its tendency to blame everything on the outside.
Evidently, the world’s eyes are tuned toward the war in Ukraine, tensions in Asia, and the rivalry between China and America. For years now, the world has been gearing up for an ecological and digital revolution.
Where does Lebanon stand in the midst of these changes? What is the country’s contribution to all these developments that will surely shape tomorrow’s world? These are the questions that the country, rich in human resources, should be asking itself.
But we are so far from that. Worse still, we are moving backward — so much so that a century after its creation, Greater Lebanon appears to be smaller today.
Undoubtedly, there are thousands of individual initiatives that bring pride to the country, but collectively, we have failed.
This failure cannot be pinned solely on the Palestinian presence and pan-Arabism of the past, or even on Hezbollah and Iran today.
In 2019, we experienced a surreal interlude. For the first time in Lebanon’s history, all communities came together, took to the streets, and demanded the end of a “system,” without really knowing what this system was or what they wanted to replace it with.
In the midst of the state’s unraveling, a fledgling sense of nationhood emerged, but it was like the final falling note of a song. Almost four years have elapsed since that moment, and that glimpse behind the curtain now seems like an illusion. A collective introspection has overtaken the population.
Ethnic and cultural identities have become stronger, accompanied by a surge in separatist sentiments. Lebanon has become small again. No collective project could emerge from it.
Hezbollah has largely contributed to this collective degeneration of thought, by establishing a regime of terror that leaves little room for imagination. But even to stand up against it seems far away. The party’s opponents have failed to offer a strategy that could unite the people. The best they can seem to do is offer hollow and reactionary slogans.
Lebanon is becoming more of an assemblage of territories than a country. It has become a place where people surely know how to drink, eat, and be merry. A place where money is laundered and Captagon is manufactured, where Barbie is banned, and homosexuals are persecuted.
A place where efforts to build a state, to build a nation, have ceased.
This article was originally published in French in L'Orient-Le Jour. Translation by Sahar Ghoussoub.
Since its inception in 1920, the Lebanese state’s geographical area has never exceeded 10,452 square kilometers. Despite this, the country seemed to have transcended its boundaries on many occasions over the past century.The international and regional interest that has been directed toward the tiny nation has appeared at times incongruent with its physical proportions and lack of natural...