These are among the latest symptoms of an economic implosion that is accelerating at an alarming pace in Lebanon as its government, its banks and its citizens run out of foreign currency simultaneously.
The collapse is the result of decades of economic mismanagement, corruption and overspending. Hopes for a rescue are fading as the country’s ruling elites balk at the kind of reforms and outside scrutiny that would unlock international aid. Talks with the International Monetary Fund to secure a $10 billion loan have stalled." Washpost
We were standing outside the main terminal at Beirut International Airport watching the chaos in the streets when this question emerged from the mouth of the man who often drove for me when I visited Beirut.
This was about 20 years ago. The country was then more or less paralyzed politically and economically. The fighting part of the civil war had ended but the internal struggle among factions focused on personalities, and religious sects was only intensifying. Syria, then a unified country was an ever present menace on the eastern border. Syrian workers flooded Lebanon and Palestinian refugees inhabited permanent camps that had virtual extra-territoriality. To complete the picture the foreign embassies never tired of meddling in Lebanese politics. Then as now, foreign ambassadors in Lebanon tended to be careerist functionaries who desperately want to raise their profile in their own capitals.
I put my arm around his shoulders and told him that if he could get out, he should because the situation would continue to disintegrate.
And, it has.
The Lebanese are charming, hard working people. This statement applies to all of them, Sunni, Shia, Christians of various types, etc. But the country, like Belgium, was a bad idea.
It was constructed by the French during their rule of Greater Syria as a kind of Indian reservation for the Maronite Christians and carved out of the flank of Greater Syria. The French, another charming people, had long treasured the idea of the Maronites as their little brothers in the ME. The outcome of WW1 gave them a chance to realize this sentimental dream in that they held the League of Nations Mandate for what are now Syria and Lebanon. The result was Lebanon in its present boundaries but the French made a fatal error. For reasons of "economic viability" they made Lebanon a lot larger than the various Maronite enclaves and thus created a situation in which ancient enemies would confront each other politically forever.
To further poison the pot, the creation of Israel and the flight of many, many Palestinians into Lebanon threatened to further de-stabilize the political balance among the multitude of competing factions. The Lebanese response to this was to permanently bar Palestinian refugees from the possibility of attaining Lebanese citizenship and the vote. There were a few exceptions, but not many.
It must be said that the collective Lebanese personality with its proclivity for ostentatious display and the endless scheming to obtain the funds needed to support that display contributes to the instability of their lives. There is precious little sense of civic duty in Lebanon. Public spaces are neglected and a sense of national cohesion is talked about but little felt.
At the same time the aforesaid meddling of foreign embassies and especially the US Embassy has been a constantly destructive and disruptive force. In particular the role played by US political players (the Zionists and the neocons) has been pernicious. Driven by these forces the US has insisted on non-cooperation with any Lebanese government that includes Hizballah ministers. Hizballah, in addition to being the only effective military force in Lebanon, is a mighty political force in its role as a political party operating within the Lebanese constitution. They hold a large bloc of seats in the parliament and they have other parties, notably Christian, as their allies. In spite of that, the US has sought to impede the functioning of Lebanese government because we simply do not care what happens to the country.
I hope my friend and driver left. pl
Would US policy on Lebanon been less pernicious had there been a large number of Protestant Christians living there?
Thank you for your insights, Colonel. That’s why I come here.
A country used to living well beyond its means. And fractious cultural, geographic and ethnic divides.
Hey! Don’t post twice! Can you grasp that?
Did you know Bill Eveland?
Author of “Ropes of Sand”, his personal story of time in Lebanon with CIA and his later struggle against CIA, State Dept, and Kissinger.
ages ago you had this powerpoint (?) presentation. I forget most of it.
But how would those different religous communities relate to the overall Arab clan nature? Sorry if I misunderstood your presentation.
Not sure you understand your own question. In Lebanon lineage systems are normally all in one sect, but these are often divided into political factions built around some egomaniac. In Iraq, tribes, clans and other lineage systems are sometimes divided between Sunni and Shia. This came about because of Shia missionary activity over the last few centuries.
Not sure you understand your own question…
Posted by: turcopolier | 21 July 2020 at 09:16 AM
Colonel, I actually do. But yes there are layers upon layers of questions buried below or between the lines. So yes, I fully accept that no one else possibly can.
I’d love to watch an exchange between you and two Brits on the region, ‘Beirut Bob’ as Ephraim Karsh calls Robert Fisk and Alastair Cooke, who I have been following lately rather regularly on the Strategic Culture Foundation’s website, on the Middle East history, past, presence.
Come to think of it, we could add a French perspective via Patrick Bahzad.
fisk interviewed me a couple of times long ago. I can’t say that I was impressed. Crooke knows his stuff. We correspond occasionally. Bahzad is a serving French spook. I miss him too but IMO he has been directed to stay out of print.