One year after the October revolution of Lebanon passed and you’ll be hard pressed to find any Lebanese celebrating the milestone, not least of all because it almost coincided perfectly with Saad Hariri’s comeback as prime minister. Ominously, the only people happy with Hariri’s reappearance on the scene is the Shiite duo of Hezbollah and Amal, which needs a Sunni heavyweight recognized by the West and Saudi Arabia who they can play with, not unlike a cat plays with a dead mouse.
We should neither celebrate Hariri’s return nor the anniversary as both have shown that the Lebanese themselves are suffering from a chronic condition of Stockholm Syndrome with the political classes – the same people who harmed them and stole the food from their mouths for well over 30 years.
Hariri’s resignation just two weeks after the October revolution began was one of the few strokes of genius he played, in a checkered political career.
Arguably, Hariri’s resignation just two weeks after the October revolution began – sparked by the imbecilic idea proposed by a government minister to put a tax on WhatsApp usage – was one of the few strokes of genius he played, in a checkered political career marked by scandal, graft, and above all impotence.
Indeed, if one thing marks the three stooges photographed sitting together on the day of Hariri’s inauguration – himself, Berri, and Aoun – it is the art of doing nothing but appearing to be relevant. The words “I really wanted to do something, but just couldn’t manage it” will be the eulogy of Michel Aoun when he expires in 2022. And Hariri comes a close second.
Mythology is a big part of Lebanon’s culture and it’s there in abundance when we reflect on the past year and Hariri’s comeback. Chiefly, the Lebanese are nowhere near to forming any kind of political opposition, which the West could have engaged with and which certainly would have made a difference in terms of a rescue plan with players like Macron or even the Americans. This was truly an opportunity lost.
And secondly, despite the rhetoric, most Lebanese are still joined at the hip to their sectarian leader and confessional system. With an economy in freefall and the country now more akin to Bangladesh than anything we have seen before; many Lebanese have woken up and accepted the idea that the world would step in and build an alternative political model for them is folly.
Many Lebanese have woken up and accepted the idea that the world would step in and build an alternative political model for them is folly.
The demonstrations were always tainted by a whiff of fakeness anyway. When you looked closely, it was clear that they were organized by leaders of militias who saw an opportunity for their dreams to come true. They actually believed that the demonstrations would bring about a measured decline, if not demise, of Hezbollah. Let’s bury that particular chestnut once and for all.
But there is more for those who are still living in “Alice in Wonderland.”
Hariri’s resignation a year ago and then his comeback was more measured than the orchestrated demonstrations. It was a deft move at cracking the whip and getting more respect from the Hezbollah camp, a sort of tantrum de force.
And to some extent it worked. Throwing the toys out of the pram, for the Hariri camp, made him look more or less indispensable to at least the Hezbollah block which wields most of the power and to the international community which seems to say “he’s not that bright and he’s not even capable . . . but at least we know him and feel comfortable with him.”
Now, his plan of setting up a cabinet of ministers not aligned to political groups will go ahead which will please the Macronites in Paris who think this is the silver bullet to reform. In reality it’s the mother of all backfires: it removes the shooter’s head. The whole charade is really about fooling the international community into going ahead with one last “Paris type” conference of mustering up an aid package – which isn’t aid at all but a loan. That will then be pilfered by the same heavyweights in Lebanon. And only about 30 percent of the loan will be reverted back out and used as a contingent to putting Lebanon back on track.
Indeed, when you understand the intricacies of how corruption works almost like a well oiled business in Lebanon, you almost have sympathy for these leaders who would no doubt argue that they need to take even more from the pot than before because the crisis has made their own supporters so poor. More mouths to feed.
The last thing Lebanon needs is another Paris-type loan which will only be stolen wholesale by those running the country.
To be sure, the last thing Lebanon needs is another Paris-type loan which will only be stolen wholesale by those running the country and will be paid back by the next generation of young people in taxes, higher crime, and lower incomes. To go to Paris and get a loan to rescue Lebanon would be akin to throwing good money after bad.
For Macron and Hariri such a rescue plan is nothing more than window dressing anyway. Perhaps they think it will buy them a couple of years. In reality it will be a couple of months when Lebanon sinks lower into poverty and the death rate spikes, hospitals shut down, cancer rates climb higher, and antibiotics become so expensive on the black market that it will only be the Porsche Cayenne owners club of Mount Lebanon who will be able to afford them.
The next so-called “revolution” which then follows will not be street demonstrations, but crimes carried out by political thugs in pistols, robbing whoever and wherever they can. And the moment those gangs move into a neighborhood which is their arch enemy, you have a recipe for a state of emergency when shoot outs, raids, and revenge-kidnapping will be the order of the day.
Many Lebanese will want to weep when they look at the three stooges photograph of Hariri, Berri, and Aoun. It will resonate with them that Lebanon has not come very far at all with its experiment of “corruption sharing” as a compromise to securing a peace deal in 1990. There is a new Lebanese civil war now being played out which still has the lines drawn up as before with the same figures.
The Lebanese in fact, one might argue, since the economic crash, are more galvanized than ever by their sectarian leaders and the only business model they know, which is an antithesis to governance. Leaders in Lebanon simply don’t know what governance is and are unable even on a good day to fake it; and people aren’t able to articulate what type of change they might like. In many ways, this explains, succinctly, why Hariri came back.
But the photograph will also remind them that, despite the woeful delusion of being both important and respected once as trend-setters in the Arab world, Lebanon has in fact not at all developed since the Taif Agreement, but actually gone backwards on almost all levels, which is why it is unfair and quite wrong to compare it to Bangladesh; for the Bangladeshis.
* The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect the views of Inside Arabia.