Arab Awakening, Lebanon and Economics

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By Ghassan Karam 

Joseph Schumpeter one of the greatest minds in economics coined the term “creative destruction” in an effort to describe how capitalism moves forward by encouraging innovation and creativity. I believe , rather strongly that this idea applies rather neatly to the field of political science in general and to what is taking place in the Middle East in particular. What appeared to be hooliganism to Mr. Mubarak and his entourage and what is described as mobs and criminals by Saif Al Islam are anything but. This apparent spontaneous chaos is in effect nothing but the most creative of destructions that could give birth to a new free and democratic MENA.

Two down and seven to go might soon become three down and six to go. Wouldn’t it be grand if the move towards democracy, diversity and freedom is to finally take root in the Arab world?

Many of us have been calling for an “Arab awakening” a Gdansk moment or an Arab Berlin wall for a while. But if the revolution is to uproot the ruling structures in each of the Arab countries then why do we count only 9 dictators instead of 21? Well, in my case, at least, I think a radical change in the big 9 will force the others in the Gulf including Iraq and Lebanon to change also. The smaller countries are more dependent on their surroundings and none of them is strong enough to impose its beliefs but each of them will not be able to resist the tide to change and reform once that becomes the dominant form in the region.

Yet in spite of all of this I have been struggling to explain the difference between what is going on in Egypt, Tunisia, Libya, Yemen and the lack of any change in Lebanon. After a lot of soul searching I believe that to a large extent one can explain the respective differences between any of the major players and Lebanon in terms of another economic principle. In a major country such as Egypt or possibly Libya the power is concentrated in one person at the top of the pyramid. That single person embodies all powers in the country. This concentration of power is akin to that of a pure monopolist who is free to exploit and abuse the consumers/citizens. Lebanon on the other hand is closer to what Galbraith called the “counter vailing power” structure. This would be the fact when a pure monopolist in one field is not free to exploit, restrict and abuse since this monopolist faces an equally powerful monopolist on the other side of the enterprise. The interaction between these two monopolists will result in a solution somewhere in between what each of them would have liked to do. Theoretically the solution could be a total negation of the power of each and thus the citizen/consumer will contend with a solution that could be rather beneficial. A good example of this would be say an automotive giant who would have liked to impose its will on tire manufacturers but if the automotive giant faces a rubber giant then none of them would be in a position to exploit the other and the consumer will benefit.

Michael Young, of the Daily Star, has dealt with the issue of relative personal freedom in the Lebanese public square by attributing that relative freedom to the inability of any of the major sects to impose its own will unhindered. That is exactly what a counterveiling power does. This however does not make sectarianism acceptable.

But this above argument, although it does lead to good outcomes, is just as badly in need of reform as any of the other single power dictatorships for the simple reason that the solution of the interaction between the oligopolists can never be determined in advance and if it does turn out to be efficient then that would be purely accidental. The system cannot guarantee efficiency/freedom and so the need to change and the need to adopt a fairer more competitive system are just as acute as in the case of a pure monopolist/dicatorship. As a result the revolutionary task in Lebanon is even more difficult than it was for the Tunisians and the Egyptians who had to organize against the person on top of the pyramid in an effort to uproot the regime that he represents. In Lebanon, we do not have that luxury, we have to organize against and get rid of the people at the top of a number of smaller pyramids whose individual constituents regard only the opposing pyramids as corrupt and inefficient. Each constituency appears to be relatively satisfied with its own mini pyramid and concentrates on blaming the opposing power structures. This problem fits very well the line from Luke:

“How can you say to your brother, ‘Brother, let me take the speck out of your eye,’ when you yourself fail to see the plank in your own eye? You hypocrite”. Is there any hope for a radical revolutionary reform in Lebanon? Only if we can shed our religious tribal affiliations and act as one. Unfortunately for us in Lebanon, Mouwatinieah and secularism are alien ideas.

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23 responses to “Arab Awakening, Lebanon and Economics”

  1. Georgeabuali Avatar
    Georgeabuali

    Well said Ghassan.
    though you said “Two down ( Tunisia&Egypt) and seven to go might soon” not being specific? Who are they are in you op.

    I assume, the next seven are” Libya, Alger, Jordan, Syria, Bahrain, Lebanon, Iraq”? and how about the kingdoms?
    Cheers

    1. Ghassankaram Avatar
      Ghassankaram

      Georgeabuali,
      The other seven , in my mind, are: Libya; Algeria; Morocco;Yemen; Saudi Arabia ; Jordan and Syria.

    2. Ghassankaram Avatar
      Ghassankaram

      Georgeabuali,
      The other seven , in my mind, are: Libya; Algeria; Morocco;Yemen; Saudi Arabia ; Jordan and Syria.

  2.  Avatar

    Well said Ghassan.
    though you said “Two down ( Tunisia&Egypt) and seven to go might soon” not being specific? Who are they are in you op.

    I assume, the next seven are” Libya, Alger, Jordan, Syria, Bahrain, Lebanon, Iraq”? and how about the kingdoms?
    Cheers

    1.  Avatar

      Georgeabuali,
      The other seven , in my mind, are: Libya; Algeria; Morocco;Yemen; Saudi Arabia ; Jordan and Syria.

  3. Amen!

    1. Ghassankaram Avatar
      Ghassankaram

      Hannibal,
      I have often thought that a Syrian revolt will turn out to be bloody. I hope that I am wrong.

    1.  Avatar

      Hannibal,
      I have often thought that a Syrian revolt will turn out to be bloody. I hope that I am wrong.

  4. PROPHET.T Avatar

    Not sure how all these revolutions would turn out to be, but the result can not be worse than the regimes who for decades glorified themselves to the last days of their power(Mubarak,and Gaddafi last speeches.lol).
    No doubt that this awakening,as late and as unexpected as it came, it will change the face of the middle east.The fact that it all started by the young generation of Arab, it makes it more promising.The result can only be better.
    Lets hope that the Libyan revolution succeeds before it gets more bloody and tragic than it already has, So that it won’t scare,and discourage the youths of other Arab countries.
    Looking at the Tunisian, Egyptian,and now the Libyan, Yamen,and Bahranian revolts, it seems that each one is getting bloodier than the previous one.I just wonder, if the Libyan revolution turns out to be very costly, would that discourage the next one of the seven candidate countries?In other words, would people consider ” the creative destructive” idea to be too creative or too destructive? Each leader has tried to prove to his people that He was tougher than the previous deposed one.And I imagine the next one or two will be bloodier, especially with the inability or unwillingness of the international community to intervene in the face of extreme violence against civilian protesters.

    1. Ghassankaram Avatar
      Ghassankaram

      Prophet,
      There is no doubt that the Egyptian uprising has already changed the arab world but I am not sure that the change is going to be radical enough. This is still work in progress and the Army might surprise us. (Personally I do not think that they would.)

  5. PROPHET.T Avatar

    Not sure how all these revolutions would turn out to be, but the result can not be worse than the regimes who for decades glorified themselves( to the last days, Mubarak,and Gaddafi last speeches.lol).
    No doubt that this awakening,as late and as unexpected as it came, it will change the face of the middle east.The fact that it all started by the young generation of Arab, it makes it more promising.The result can only be better.
    Lets hope that the Libyan revolution succeeds before it gets more bloody and tragic than it already has, So that it won’t scare,and discourage the youths of other Arab countries.
    looking at the Tunisian, Egyptian,and now the Libyan revolutions, it seems that each one is getting bloodier than the previous one.I just wonder, if the Libyan revolution turns out to be very costly, would that discourage the next one of the seven candidate countries?In other words, would people consider ” the creative destructive” idea to be too creative or too destructive?

    1.  Avatar

      Prophet,
      There is no doubt that the Egyptian uprising has already changed the arab world but I am not sure that the change is going to be radical enough. This is still work in progress and the Army might surprise us. (Personally I do not think that they would.)

      1. Ghassan,

        What is your take on facebook and the role it played in the Egyptian uprising…

        1.  Avatar

          Marc,
          I am old enough to know that there is no such thin as a magic tool for organizing. Flyers , telephone trees, meetings in basements and the like were not effective tools. You could never act on an idea in a short period of time and promoting a meeting or a petition was very time consuming and very expensive.
          Modern technology has changed all of that. I can get an idea design a flyer and send it to thousands of people all over the world within hours and at no cost besides the time. Yes social networking has played a role, an active role and has made it easier to spread the message and draw the crowds. But it is important never to forget that recepients react only if they can connect to the message. FB and tweeter are great tools but a tool is as good as the message that it is conveying.

  6. First of all, for the past few months massive uprisings have become the common currency in the Arab World which first started in Tunisia and then Egypt and now it has developed into a full Specter that is haunting most Arab regimes.
    The people across the Arab World are wholeheartedly demanding their universal rights which is freedom, dignity and democracy,and so far the popular revolts that we are seeing is not affilated to any ideological movements.
    The postcolonial order in the Arab world was first ruled by corrupt monarchs that were widely seen as stooges to imperliast powers, and shortly afterwords they where all overthrown by the rising bourgeois Arab nationalist parties that first started in Egypt in 1952 and spread to Iraq, Syria and later Libya. The political systems of all these countries were dominated by single ruling parties and with it comes the absolute leadership which is another form of saying a Stalinist bureaucracy par excellance.
    In Lebanon, however, our political predicament is far more complicated then other Arab states and even though we share the same symptoms just like most Arab regimes.
    Today, Lebanon is composed of 18 different sects and minorities and our political arrangement ever since the birth of this nation in 1943 was organized along confessional lines, and adopting power sharing in order to keepp the system in check.
    Moreover, each sect has their own elites and their local partisans.
    Now the reason why the prospects of radical revolution in Lebanon seems dim because as Mr.Karam said tribal and religious affiliations are embedded among the people and that prevents the revolutionary aspirations from taking place.
    Mr.Karam, with all due respect I think the Lebanese experiment has proven to be a complete “farce” ever since 1943 till this day present.
    The Lebanese system is uique by all means.
    Both Karl Marx and Max Waber and other social theorists would never had immagined in their researches a case like Lebanon with its complicated dynamics.

  7.  Avatar

    First of all, for the past few months massive uprisings have become the common currency in the Arab World which first started in Tunisia and then Egypt and now it has developed into a full Specter that is haunting most Arab regimes.
    The people across the Arab World are wholeheartedly demanding their universal rights which is freedom, dignity and democracy,and so far the popular revolts that we are seeing is not affilated to any ideological movements.
    The postcolonial order in the Arab world was first ruled by corrupt monarchs that were widely seen as stooges to imperliast powers, and shortly afterwords they where all overthrown by the rising bourgeois Arab nationalist parties that first started in Egypt in 1952 and spread to Iraq, Syria and later Libya. The political systems of all these countries were dominated by single ruling parties and with it comes the absolute leadership which is another form of saying a Stalinist bureaucracy par excellance.
    In Lebanon, however, our political predicament is far more complicated then other Arab states and even though we share the same symptoms just like most Arab regimes.
    Today, Lebanon is composed of 18 different sects and minorities and our political arrangement ever since the birth of this nation in 1943 was organized along confessional lines, and adopting power sharing in order to keepp the system in check.
    Moreover, each sect has their own elites and their local partisans.
    Now the reason why the prospects of radical revolution in Lebanon seems dim because as Mr.Karam said tribal and religious affiliations are embedded among the people and that prevents the revolutionary aspirations from taking place.
    Mr.Karam, with all due respect I think the Lebanese experiment has proven to be a complete “farce” ever since 1943 till this day present.
    The Lebanese system is uique by all means.
    Both Karl Marx and Max Waber and other social theorists would never had immagined in their researches a case like Lebanon with its complicated dynamics.

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