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The Daily Star
WEDNESDAY, 23 APR 2014
11:52 PM Beirut time
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Editorial
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Comatose nation
Floods block the tunnel on the highway linking Beirut airport to Khalde, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013.(The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
Floods block the tunnel on the highway linking Beirut airport to Khalde, Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013.(The Daily Star/Hasan Shaaban)
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Many people in Lebanon are focused on the year’s first major snowstorm, which has already begun to batter the country, but they are blissfully apathetic about the many other storms that make their lives miserable on a daily basis.

Ordinary folks have settled into the comforting routine of worrying about the things they believe “directly affect” them. A natural disaster, a situation of government corruption, civil unrest – but as long as those incidents are relatively far away, they can be safely ignored.

The last few weeks have seen a string of events that would topple a government, or at least some of its members, in any other part of the world: A nasty exchange of corruption allegations between two ministers followed the flooding of streets and homes due to severe rainfall, the country’s Customs Authority showed itself to be dead set against transparency and serving the national interest and the country’s biggest prison is reportedly beset by official corruption.

The list of problem areas can go on and on, to extend to health care, food safety, the quality and cost of education, environmental degradation, the atrocious mismanagement of power and water resources, and many other areas.

Lebanese are skilled at complaining about all of these problems, but the most diligent efforts are put into television comedy sketches making fun of the situation, which is followed by ignoring it the next day.

Lebanon boasts about its vibrant civil society, but if one takes all of the NGOs, political parties and other actors and adds up their contribution to solving the problems, the sum total is practically nil.

People are thus left to moan and complain, and what’s worse, many people who do the complaining are the ones who vote the same mafias into office, election after election. This is despite the fact that Lebanon is so small that it has few secrets; young children can describe a given politician’s corrupt acts in detail. Few people can use the excuse that they don’t know what they are doing when they cast their votes.

When Lebanese are moved to take action, whether peaceful or violent, it usually involves a perceived “threat” to a given sect – these are issues of direct concern, unlike the country as a whole and its future.

People have turned complaining and mockery into a national industry, but when it comes to fixing what needs to be fixed, a mass state of amnesia and apathy takes hold.

Lebanese should stop complaining – not because their country is relatively well off compared to other places in the world, but because they are so absolutely useless when it comes to fixing the simplest of public problems.

Holding politicians and officials accountable for their acts will never take place thanks to an initiative from the political class, and unless people signal that they want real change, they deserve the situation they’re in.

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on December 11, 2013, on page 7.
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