Lebanon will sink without a competent captain

By Khalaf Al Habtoor

The only continuity in Lebanon is its protected cedar trees. For me, the fact that the Lebanese seem unable to put their house in order is a source of frustration because this country, blessed with nature’s finest bounty, has potential that citizens of other countries would die for.

I lost my heart to Lebanon in the 1970s and while looking up some of my old friends in Beirut during the 1990s, they encouraged me to take-in the country’s amazing diversity with a tour. It was then that I decided to inject the hospitality industry with substantial financial investment.

That was hardly a sound business decision, though, as I was driven by emotion. I wanted to help the Lebanese prosper by providing business opportunities and jobs.

I hoped they would purge themselves of sectarian divisions, demand a democratic political system, bolt the door to damaging foreign influences — and reject any leader willing to sacrifice Lebanon, whether for ideological reasons, personal benefit or foreign affiliations.

How wrong I was! Their ingrained loyalties to political and religious figures who have failed to lead them in the right direction and out-of-date political systems are imprisoning them in a time capsule.

I cannot count the number of times I have advised them to free themselves from the diktats of sectarian heads with less than patriotic agendas. No matter their faith or social status, they would often tell me that they were used to living this way.

Most settle for surviving from day to day in an atmosphere of insecurity when the majority of people around the world without a stable future would be eager for change. To be fair, the Lebanese have suffered more than most from a series of foreign occupations and internal/external conflicts. But isn’t it time that they moved away from their crisis-mode way of thinking to one that will be more productive in the long term?

The crux of Lebanon’s problems is its confessional system of governance inherited from the French which promotes disunity. Its mandatory Maronite president, Sunni prime minister and Shiite parliamentary speaker often have competing agendas, loyalties and programmes that undermine the personality of the government. Each time a leader tries to solve the nation’s economy or security problems, he is blocked by political parties.

It doesn’t help that there is a disparity between parties in terms of strength. Some are bent on moving the government in any direction they choose; others genuinely try to make things better, but are virtually impotent. Then there are those who sell out their country to foreign powers as a proxy battlefield.

Such inter-party differences of opinion do not attract investor confidence that leads to job creation — and are no recipe for the harmonious existence that most Lebanese crave. These never-ending political stalemates make me nostalgic for the 1970s when president Sulaiman Franjieh was at the helm. That was a time when Lebanon had an experienced captain and enjoyed law and order.

At this moment in time, Lebanon’s economy is on the brink according to the head of the Lebanese Industrialists Association, Nemat Frem. “We are on the verge of collapse,” he announced. “Our public debt has reached $60 billion (Dh220.68 billion) while the Gross Domestic Produce remains at $41 billion.

The head of Beirut’s Chamber of Commerce, Mohammad Choukeir, blames politicians for having “turned a deaf ear” to the economy’s deterioration and the drying-up of foreign investment. He warns of a worsening situation if the government does not quit “endless bickering” and take concrete action to tackle rising unemployment, soaring fuel prices, power cuts and improve infrastructure.

The Lebanese love to portray themselves as intelligent, but their collective intelligence is sadly lacking. As the pulse of the Arab world, Lebanon is not expendable. If the Lebanese do not rally behind a wise captain, regardless of his faith or personal allegiances — in other words, the best man for the job — then its sincere Arab friends should send in the lifeboats to save the people who clearly are not sufficiently politically mature to save themselves. And since the Arab League has failed to rescue Syrians, the GCC states should step in to save the day.

The GCC should be tasked by the Lebanese to supervise the country’s transition from a confessional system to a real democracy led by a robust decision-maker; a system that can empower the people of Lebanon to lead fruitful lives within secure parameters, rather than be blown apart like straws by the whims of politicians.

Lebanon’s problems could be resolved if only the Lebanese would admit they need help and request the GCC’s assistance so our wise, elder statesmen can use their proven powers of alchemy that fuelled the transformation of Gulf states, allowing this fragrant land to bloom again.

But let’s be clear. I’m not advocating interference in Lebanese sovereignty. I’m talking about the obligation of friends to help each other out in the way Saudi Arabia has recently stood by Bahrain.

As someone who cares, I would appeal to the people of Lebanon to invite our GCC leadership to offer their help, as I’m certain they would readily provide it.

Khalaf Al Habtoor  a self made Billionaire is the Founder and Owner of Al Habtoor Group LLC and serves as its Chairman of the Board.  In the past 12 months his group has announced investments worth $1.6 billion  in the hospitality sector. The group is globally recognized through its involvement in the hotel, automotive, real estate, education, insurance and publishing sectors. The group owns two hotels in Lebanon and an amusement park that has been closed since 2005.

 

Gulf News

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_I5PMKVMGKENONOV3EHG7I4ZN54 Sam

    Thank you Khalaf Al Habtoor for this striking and sincere piece. I appreciate your care about Lebanon, while the Lebanese themselves are burning their country day by day.
    I hope the Lebanese wake up from this coma and start doing real nation building. I’m sure we can learn a lot from Dubai too!

  • http://pulse.yahoo.com/_I5PMKVMGKENONOV3EHG7I4ZN54 Sam

    Thank you Khalaf Al Habtoor for this striking and sincere piece. I appreciate your care about Lebanon, while the Lebanese themselves are burning their country day by day.
    I hope the Lebanese wake up from this coma and start doing real nation building. I’m sure we can learn a lot from Dubai too!

  • Fauzia45

    I agree with you!Real democracy is a necessity !Separation of religion and state is a must !

  • Fauzia45

    I agree with you!Real democracy is a necessity !Separation of religion and state is a must !

  • Constantin7

    I agree with you completely Mr. Habtoor, except with your proposed solution of asking the help from the GCC. I would rather ask help from western Europe and Canada and the US, which helped the GCC to arrive at their present status, which is pretty shaky one anyways. All the GCC countries are dictatorships and not democracies, all GCC countries are “relatively” fanatic muslim countries which back “Islamization” of the world, starting with the closest to them, i.e. Lebanon, and all GCC countries are ruled with an Iron fist to keep public order, and their political systems do not accept the opinion of the other or respect diversity of belief and thought.
    Dubai is an exception and  an “island” of openess on its own, but it is a fake openess and not a real one. So taking the GCC countries as an example is not really a solution to our problems that you eloquently described.  Finally, thank you for investing in Lebanon, I know the times right now are not so good economically but things will definitely change. 

  • Constantin7

    I agree with you completely Mr. Habtoor, except with your proposed solution of asking the help from the GCC. I would rather ask help from western Europe and Canada and the US, which helped the GCC to arrive at their present status, which is pretty shaky one anyways. All the GCC countries are dictatorships and not democracies, all GCC countries are “relatively” fanatic muslim countries which back “Islamization” of the world, starting with the closest to them, i.e. Lebanon, and all GCC countries are ruled with an Iron fist to keep public order, and their political systems do not accept the opinion of the other or respect diversity of belief and thought.
    Dubai is an exception and  an “island” of openess on its own, but it is a fake openess and not a real one. So taking the GCC countries as an example is not really a solution to our problems that you eloquently described.  Finally, thank you for investing in Lebanon, I know the times right now are not so good economically but things will definitely change. 

  • ghzayel

    good article from an arab investor who believed in lebanon through thick and thin and created work opportunities for hundreds of lebanese on his own without any help from the corrupt lebanese government or the political establishment .

    i have few comments though regarding the article:

    1- “…when president Sulaiman Franjieh was at the helm. That was a time when Lebanon had an experienced captain and enjoyed law and order”.
    this experienced “captain” was the leader of a bloody mafia and a drug lord responsible for the massacre of innocent people in a church in the northern town of miziara. this “captain” was convicted by a lebanese court and an arrest warrant was issued against him but he fled to syria and remained there for few years until he “miraculously” wiped clean his slate and returned to become the president of lebanon.
    to be correct, i would say to mr habtoor: the nostalgic good times you are referring to in lebanon ended after frangieh became president.

    2- as a non lebanese, mr habtoor is a living testimony for all those expatriates and lebanese millionaires who are stacking their capitals all over the world, benefitting every dick and jane instead of helping improve the political and economic welfare of the lebanese people.

  • ghzayel

    good article from an arab investor who believed in lebanon through thick and thin and created work opportunities for hundreds of lebanese on his own without any help from the corrupt lebanese government or the political establishment .

    i have few comments though regarding the article:

    1- “…when president Sulaiman Franjieh was at the helm. That was a time when Lebanon had an experienced captain and enjoyed law and order”.
    this experienced “captain” was the leader of a bloody mafia and a drug lord responsible for the massacre of innocent people in a church in the northern town of miziara. this “captain” was convicted by a lebanese court and an arrest warrant was issued against him but he fled to syria and remained there for few years until he “miraculously” wiped clean his slate and returned to become the president of lebanon.
    to be correct, i would say to mr habtoor: the nostalgic good times you are referring to in lebanon ended after frangieh became president.

    2- as a non lebanese, mr habtoor is a living testimony for all those expatriates and lebanese millionaires who are stacking their capitals all over the world, benefitting every dick and jane instead of helping improve the political and economic welfare of the lebanese people.