In with the new

Law­less­ness no longer

Executive Magazine - - Leaders -

It was the waste cri­sis that ig­nited the protests around the Le­banese Par­lia­ment, across Down­town, on the doorsteps of nu­mer­ous min­istries and on highways and sites around the coun­try. On dif­fer­ent oc­ca­sions, such as Au­gust 22 and Septem­ber 20, protests flared into mas­sive demon­stra­tions. On many other days, protest ac­tiv­i­ties were small man­i­fes­ta­tions of dis­con­tent on a street here or in a town square there. All the while, back­door plan­ning ses­sions and meet­ings have been tak­ing place among protest stake­hold­ers from sev­eral civil so­ci­ety groups that com­prise a new “protest move­ment” (see spe­cial fea­ture page 14) that for many is an em­bod­i­ment of hope for chang­ing Le­banon for the bet­ter.

In por­tray­ing five of the move­ment’s groups (see spe­cial fea­ture page 14), Ex­ec­u­tive en­coun­tered an ar­ray of ac­tivists and took note of sev­eral facts. Par­tic­i­pants are spir­ited and united when viewed from afar, but up close cracks and dis­so­nances ap­pear. Groups that drive the move­ment have yet to in­sti­tute or­ga­ni­za­tional struc­tures and codes of con­duct. Opin­ions which mem­bers of the protest move­ment con­vey to Ex­ec­u­tive are gen­er­ally strong but some are some­what un­der­de­vel­oped when it comes to as­sess­ing is­sues such as the role of the pri­vate sec­tor. As of to­day, the move­ment brims with good in­ten­tions that are seeded with the power of con­struc­tive re­bel­lious­ness and will for change – which is great. But the am­bi­tion to force fun­da­men­tal change is, by uni­ver­sal hu­man ex­pe­ri­ence, highly com­bustible.

Can this move­ment build a sus­tain­able sys­tem? This skep­ti­cal ques­tion ob­vi­ously begs for an em­phatic “no” as an­swer – but it is an ir­rel­e­vant ques­tion. The true ques­tion in the view of Ex­ec­u­tive ed­i­tors is, what has the move­ment al­ready proven? The an­swer to that is sim­ple and com­pelling. The move­ment has proven that the Le­banese will not tol­er­ate the coun­try’s dys­func­tional sys­tem. Not any longer.

This is dan­ger­ous for those peo­ple whose wel­fare de­pends on the Le­banese sta­tus quo. Luck­ily for Le­banon, these peo­ple are but a few – the hold­ers of secto-po­lit­i­cal an­cien regime out­posts and their cronies who form less than “one per­cent” of the pop­u­la­tion. All the oth­ers – the en­tre­pre­neur­ial pri­vate sec­tor, the public ser­vants, the re­tirees, the young and ev­ery­one whose eco­nomic con­tri­bu­tions keep the coun­try alive – have much to lose un­der a con­tin­ued sta­tus quo. How much? That is in­nu­mer­able. Think ero­sion of prop­erty rights and eco­nomic op­por­tu­ni­ties but also loss of fun­da­men­tals for a mod­ern civ­i­liza­tion such as a sound en­vi­ron­ment, elec­tric­ity, wa­ter, and now health due to the risks of garbage-born epi­demics.

Le­banon is in dan­ger be­cause of a sys­tem that has grown more dys­func­tional with each year for at least a decade and that has been sur­viv­ing be­cause its ben­e­fi­cia­ries could ex­ploit un­nat­u­ral so­cial di­chotomies and eco­nomic de­pen­den­cies. For ex­am­ple, some re­gions in the south and north of the coun­try have de­lib­er­ately been de­nied their rights for de­vel­op­ment to main­tain a poverty hi­er­ar­chy.

What is needed is a com­plex de­vel­op­ment of re­spon­si­bil­i­ties and in­sti­tu­tions that must start with a sim­ple premise. We the peo­ple must ac­cept that the Le­banese so­cial con­tract with the state is bro­ken and has to be rewrit­ten.


In the pe­riod af­ter the civil war, the so­cial con­tract was ruled by the Taif Ac­cord that fa­cil­i­tated a re­turn to na­tional or­der. Ac­cord­ing to scholar Has­san Krayem, the agree­ment “tack­led many es­sen­tial points per­tain­ing to the struc­ture of the po­lit­i­cal sys­tem and to the sovereignty of the Le­banese state.” But, as Krayem wrote in 1997, the sys­tem es­tab­lished un­der the Taif Ac­cord failed “to es­tab­lish a clear and rel­a­tively sta­ble for­mula to rule, gov­ern, and ex­er­cise au­thor­ity” and left the coun­try in un­ful­filled need to tran­scend sec­tar­ian iden­ti­ties and “es­tab­lish a clear conception of the na­tional iden­tity”.

In the con­text of ad­dress­ing the on­go­ing prob­lem of Le­banon’s dys­func­tional sys­tem of gov­er­nance, we can iden­tify two salient points from the Na­tional Pact and Taif Ac­cord. The first is the ob­ser­va­tion that the Na­tional Pact was pro­duced by a few for the many. As another scholar Farid Khazen wrote in 1991, “this in­for­mal agree­ment was nei­ther re­stricted to Le­banese par­ties, nor was it a na­tional one. Rather, it was an ar­range­ment in­volv­ing Le­banese politi­cians (mostly Ma­ronite and Sunni), Arab lead­ers (mainly Syr­i­ans and Egyp­tians), and western pow­ers (the French and the Bri­tish in par­tic­u­lar).” Taif, as Krayem states, “con­sti­tuted a com­pro­mise among the Le­banese deputies, po­lit­i­cal groups and par­ties, mili­tias and lead­ers”. Nei­ther con­tract was “writ­ten by” the Le­banese peo­ple.

The sec­ond point is that both agree­ments were smart and fairly work­able ex­pres­sions of “Re­alpoli­tik”, and ad­dressed im­me­di­ate and prac­ti­cal con­cerns of co­ex­is­tence. How­ever, nei­ther agree­ment qual­i­fied as a na­tion build­ing tool. The sys­tem gov­erned by the ob­jec­tive of bal­anc­ing com­mu­nal in­ter­ests has served its pur­pose of main­tain­ing sta­bil­ity, but it has aged to the point of not re­flect­ing the needs of the peo­ple who it was de­signed to serve and pro­tect. In re­cent years, it has in­creas­ingly served the needs of minute, self-styled elites. Twenty years af­ter it was writ­ten, Krayem’s fi­nal state­ments seem more rel­e­vant than ever: the im­ple­men­ta­tion of sys­temic re­form and cre­ation of a sta­ble mod­ern Le­banese state “needs per­haps the ex­is­tence of a dif­fer­ent vi­sion, dif­fer­ent po­lit­i­cal forces, a dif­fer­ent no­tion of pol­i­tics, and a new gen­er­a­tion.”



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