In with the new
Lawlessness no longer
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.
WHY REWRITE A SOCIAL CONTRACT?
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.”
THE NEW GENERATION IS FINALLY IN TOWN AND IT ASPIRES TO