By: Claude Salhani
Lebanon, the tiny country on the eastern end of the Mediterranean basin may be small in size, yet it faces huge problems.
The country, which is made up of 17 different religious communities is still trying to find itself amidst an even more complex larger Middle East full of plots and sub-plots. And its leadership lacks the ability and the drive to establish order or to even provide electricity around the clock to its people.
Lebanon has had three revolutions and a slew of liberations in its rich history. The country was occupied by just about any power you care to name throughout the ages: Greeks, Romans, Crusaders, Ottomans, French. Palestinians and Israelis. The country has also hosted a slew of foreign troops as part of either the Multinational Force (Americans, French, British and Italian) or the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), to which some 16 countries contribute forces.
More recently Lebanon is living through a different sort of occupation that could be perhaps more detrimental to the future of the country than all the previous occupations. This one is being carried out by short sighed and ego-centric politicians, who occupy government portfolios and seats in the national parliament.
Is it time for a new revolution? The Lebanese had their first revolt against the Ottomans, who incidentally, ruled the country for some 700 odd years. The second revolt came at the close of World War II when the Lebanese demanded their independence from the French Mandate. And the third revolution, labeled the Cedar Revolution, was just a few years ago when the Lebanese rose up and took to the streets, demanding the departure of Syrian forces from the country. The Syrian military left, albeit they left behind them legions of intelligence operatives. That revolution was hailed as a great success. It was quick, it was bloodless and it was effective. The Syrians up and left and the Lebanese regained their independence. Sort of.
But what is a revolution? And when does a revolution become regressive instead of progressive? Revolutions are supposed to change systems, ideally for the better. While the political system did change with the departure of the Syrian military, alas, the changes that ensued were not all beneficiary for the country. Yes, of course, it was great to have Syria quit Lebanon, but the problem arose when instead of supporting and rallying around a strong central government, giving it powers to quell potential trouble-makers, of which there is no shortage in Lebanon, every politician wanted to be king of the hill. Every clan leader began looking out for his fiefdom and plotting against each other in mannerism found in medieval kingdoms of Europe.
Successful revolutions bring progress and better the quality of life for the people in that country. For example, the 1776 American Revolution gave rise to the model of democracy that would be later applied to many other countries, though far from perfection as it might be. Or the French Revolution of 1789 which gave rise to the republic and to thinkers such as Voltaire who is reported to have said “I disapprove of what you say but I will defend to the death your right to say it.”
Now compare that line of thinking to recent events in the Lebanese capital where a Shiite man tried to set fire to Al-Jadid TV because he disagreed with the way they were reporting the news on Syria. He was caught on tape and arrested. His friends and supporters started burning tires and blocking major roads in the capital, demanding his release.
What kind of message does this action send to the young people of the country? That it is alright to commit a crime when someone disagrees with your views? The demonstrations were organized — or at least sanctioned — by Amal and Hezbollah, two Shiite organizations. Both parties later denied any direct involvement, claiming the demonstrators were friends of the man arrested, who could have been members of the party but were acting on their own accord.
Hezbollah is part of the Lebanese government — an important part of the government. So in essence they were demonstrating against themselves? Anything is plausible in Lebanon, where a columnist reports on the English-language website Now Lebanon, life for the Shiites of Lebanon has taken a turn for the worse since Hezbollah has been in government. The Shiites in Lebanon are still at the bottom of the social-economic ladder and their image in the Arabian Gulf is tarnished, in great part because of the Party of God’s support of Iran and of Syrian President Bashar al-Assad. Getting a job in one of the oil-rich emirates — one of the main sources of job outlets for the Lebanese — has become impossible.
And with parliamentary elections just down the road the situation in unlikely to improve anytime soon. What this country needs is a new revolution. One in the field of education where the young people in this country are taught what is right and what is wrong. The question is who is going to do the teaching when the older generation can’t seem to differentiate between the two?
Claude Salhani is a journalist and political analyst focusing on Middle East Issues and terrorism. He is the author of several books, including Islam Without a Veil. He tweets @claudesalhani.