Rule of the jungle

Shi'ite masked gunmen from the Meqdad clan, gather at the Meqdad family's association headquarters in the southern suburbs in Beirut, August 15, 2012. (REUTERS/Khalil Hassan)

With every day and every new security incident, the Lebanese government is cementing its reputation for drawing disappointment.

Problems of all sizes are met by the government with hopes for a miracle or are brushed under the carpet.

The infrastructural concerns in the country, most critically reliable supplies of electricity and water, have gone from bad to worse, despite promises that things would improve. The everyday security situation deteriorates, with road blockings and bank robberies continuing with impunity. Kidnappings, whether for political or material gain, have become a normal occurrence.

These problems are dealt with by the Lebanese without the help or even the presence of government officials or representatives.

And so officials’ promises are taken ever less seriously. In fact, except for the tourism minister who has had the courage to say publically that Lebanon’s season has effectively been killed thanks to the problems the country is facing, no other minister is even talking about the failures of this government, as if they are happening in a country over which it has no jurisdiction.

From this, the Lebanese have taken a clear invitation for everybody to take governance into their own hands. They get their power from private generators and their clean water delivered. They even take the law into their own hands, staging kidnappings in revenge for kidnappings, when the government appears helpless to act.

This situation is creating the impression that the country is a failed state, where the rule of the jungle prevails and the ordinary citizen cannot survive.

This government hoped that the security incidents that have taken place might detract attention from its inability to secure the basic needs of its citizens.

However, the opposite has occurred, whereby the state’s inability to solve its most basic problems belies it stated intentions to resolve its more immediately catastrophic ones. In times of crisis, people can hardly put their faith in a government with a track record of ignoring their needs even at times relative calm.

Of course, these major issues must be resolved, but the Lebanese are right to doubt the ability of a government which cannot provide its citizens with electricity handle such problems with any degree of skill.

The latest example of this, of course, is the clashes that have erupted repeatedly in the northern city of Tripoli this year, the latest of them this week.

After each incident of violence, the government assures the people that the problem has been solved, only for worse fighting to erupt shortly after.

The authorities know who the perpetrators are, as they wait for a time to strike. But every time, the government shows surprise at the outbreak of violence.

Those not feigning surprise are the Lebanese people, who have seen this charade acted out too many times for them to play along any more.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on August 22, 2012, on page 7.




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