Sunday, November 25, 2007

Lebanon: A Failed State?

It is highly discomforting to notice that not many political analysts, observers, residents or politicians of the Lebanese political scene have correctly identified the root cause of the Lebanese stand-off as being purely systemic. A proper diagnosis is essential if one is to treat the real malady and not merely the symptoms. Lebanon has just observed its 64th anniversary of “independence” although it is clear that the state has always catered to the whims and dictates of outsiders. Ceremonial events are often meant as a cover and as PR instruments to project an image that does not exist. It is unfortunate, but Lebanon seems to relish ceremonial events, empty clichés and hollow institutions.

The role of the loyal opposition is essential for the functioning of a robust democracy. It is, after all, what keeps the ruling party “honest”. This does not appear to be the case in Lebanon. Hezbollah and its allies operate not in the national interest but appear to be in the service of foreign powers that are intent on treating Lebanon as a tool to further these powers’ own welfare. The current ruling majority as exemplified by March 14, on the other hand, are focused on preventing the “opposition” from gaining more power and control over the increasingly frail and weak Lebanese body politic. Any investigation of the proclamations and policies by the current government reveals that at best their ambitions are at best limited to checking the plans of the opposition and restoring to Lebanon the same old bankrupt system that has resulted in nothing but turmoil, social injustice and divisiveness over the past six decades. It is a shame that no major figure in the current ruling coalition has either the courage or the ability to articulate a radically new paradigm that Lebanon needs if it is to survive as a state. What is sorely needed is a Lebanese identity that is separate from the religious and spiritual one. Lebanon is in dire need of the erection of a strong wall that separates the sacred from the secular. The root of most of our problems can be traced to the fact that we have tolerated and even encouraged religious activity in the public square. That needs to end and the sooner the better.
No time is better than the present. What Lebanon needs, just like any other functioning democracy, is a president who is committed to the national interest, sovereignty and the protection of human rights to all the citizens of the state. The above criteria are not enhanced by a specific religious behavior or a certain method of prayer. Actually it can be argued that by limiting the population from which to choose such an individual then we are in essence limiting our ability to choose the best that we have. Personal religious convictions should never be used as a prerequisite for political office at any level and definitely not for the top positions.

Unless the ruling party is willing and able to show that it is capable of moving the state towards meaningful change in Lebanon then its political victories, if and when they occur, will be vacuous and totally unproductive. Is the present leadership capable of steering the country to safe harbours? The record so far is not very promising:

(i)A collapsed Lebanese economy
(ii) A society that is struggling to survive
(iii)A weak central government that has ceded control over large parts of its territory
(iv)An inability to provide public services on a reliable and consistent basis
(v) Widespread corruption in government offices
(vi) Disintegrated state institution (non functioning parliament and inability to appoint a Constitutional Council)
(vii)Failure to protect human rights
(viii)A dysfunctional justice system
(ix) Total disrespect for law and order
(x)And last but not least, a failed Constitution.

As the above partial list indicates clearly Lebanon which was ranked last year by Foreign Policy magazine as the 21st most failed state in the world should have no problem in sinking to join the “exclusive” club of the ten most failed states in the universe.

Something can be done about preventing that ignominious rank but the responsibility rests with the Lebanese people who have to demand more accountability from their representatives and the ruling group who must forget about their personal interests and do what is good for the country. The only way to prevent a fall into the abyss would be to usher in a new system based on ability, merit, equality, sovereignty, democracy, human rights and sustainability.

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