Haven't the Lebanese waited long enough?

Protesters run from tear gas in Beirut, Oct. 18, 2019. (The Daily Star/Mohammad Azakir)

For as long as I can remember, the Lebanese people have been waiting for better days. They waited through 15 years of Civil War until 1990, and they waited for another 15 years under Syrian tutelage. Then, after the 2005 bomb attack that killed former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, they waited another 15 years as rival camps, parties and politicians bickered over seats, portfolios and influence while the economy plummeted to where we are now.

Today, following the deadly explosion at Beirut Port that killed nearly 200 people, injured thousands and left 300,000 homeless, they’re still waiting. With the economy in shambles, the Lebanese pound in a free fall and savings all but seized, they’re still waiting.

What are they waiting for?

This country – the people and the politicians alike – persists with the belief that change is something that an external force is supposed to bring about. They continue to wait for foreign powers to sympathize with their plight and rush to their rescue; they continue to wait for someone else to guide them to agreement; they continue to wait for a foreign entity to restore the economy; and perhaps most tragically, they continue to wait for someone, anyone, to save them from imagined fears regarding their fellow Lebanese.

While some foreign powers may at times take pity and give us a fish, the reality is that we ourselves need to learn to fish. No one is obligated to prop us up -- they have their own problems. We should not have to turn to the US, France, Saudi Arabia, Qatar, Russia or Iran for help. There’s nothing they know that we don’t know.

We have fallen many times over the years, but we have not yet learned how to get back up on our own. After 45 years of war, conflict and economic turmoil, one would assume that we would have developed some semblance of self-reliance, yet it boggles the mind that we haven’t made even one iota of progress in that regard.

Unfortunately, we have now come to a point where we truly cannot recover without financial assistance. We now literally need help to rebuild our economy, our banking sector, our finances, our homes and our infrastructure.

But the simple fact is that even in this we cannot move forward in unison because of a sad truth: As much as we pretend otherwise, Lebanon’s various communities, in which we purport to take pride, don’t trust each other, and for no justifiable reasons beyond political machinations. It’s that pointless imagined fear and unfounded animosity that needs to be addressed, and very quickly, before anything else.

Every protest this country has seen has featured calls to topple the entire ruling elite, one of the two main camps, or certain politicians. However, most Lebanese, save for a small minority, continue to harbor loyalties to one of the numerous parties in the country.

Moreover, whether truly nonpartisan or openly supporters of any one party, protesters have referred to supporters of other parties as blind sheep following their leaders, and have demanded that this or that leader step down, hoping that such an eventuality would magically bring about fortune and prosperity on everyone else.

What they refuse to acknowledge is that every politician, irrespective of how anyone feels about them, represents hundreds of thousands of people who are loyal to them. In essence, whether they admit it or not, those calling for various politicians’ ouster are dismissing the will of other segments of the population, while they themselves refuse to abandon their own parties and leaders.

They are trampling on the basic principles of democracy by refusing to entertain the notion that others have as much right to choosing their leaders as they do. In fact, they are unknowingly calling for war between communities.

And yet, there is a much more peaceful and constructive option available.

It is an inarguable fact that Lebanese leaders, as their recent behavior has underscored, care more about their positions than the state of the country or its people. It is also a fact that corruption is rampant and needs to be reined in.

But politicians cannot remain in power without their support bases, no matter their charming visage or seductive words. They also cannot turn on their own supporters because that would be political suicide. And there lies the answer.

Every Lebanese, regardless of his or her political affiliation, cares about one thing: the welfare of their families. They want food on the table, a roof over their heads, education and opportunities for their children, 24 -hour electricity, proper infrastructure, and a dignified and rewarding life.

Rather than each community standing as a buttress to defend their respective party and leader, while pointing fingers at supporters and leaders of other parties, let them demand from their own leaders performance, results and accountability for the entire nation. Let each community hold its own leader to account.

It’s that simple. You want to remain in power? Do your job. Do for us. Do for the country. Or you will be replaced.

Communities must understand that we no longer live as isolated tribes, and we no longer need chieftains. We require sincere representatives, who work for us, and with us, to serve the greater good. True leaders are not kings or khans who demand unwavering loyalty. Rather, they are our neighbors, our friends and our relatives who selflessly choose to serve their country and their people. And if they fail, so be it; we replace them with someone who can do the job without conflict.

All we need is for each support base to keep its party and leader in check, in coordination with others, without casting blame on their neighbors. At that point it won’t matter who is sitting on which seat, because their performance will determine whether they remain.

Only then can we rebuild Lebanon the way we’ve always wanted it to be.





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