As it stands, large sections of society are mobilized against one another. Large numbers of youth are willing to carry weapons against their peers and would not hesitate to point their guns at their own families, engage in murder, kidnapping and intimidation. They live in ghettos filled with despair and hatred for the other.
An entire generation somehow suffers from memory loss. This case of mass amnesia was spread with great skill over the past two decades. All the ingredients for carnage have been prepared.
There are a few fragile safety valves before those who live in this country start counting another 150,000 dead and tens of thousands of wounded, disabled, missing and displaced. Also there is the surveying of the tens of billions of dollars in material losses while more and more poor people are dragged into the mindless war cycle.
Everyone who has lived through one of these wars knows that a disastrous outcome is a foregone conclusion. Yet those involved today are galloping towards it.
The common denominator between those who are pushing for war and those who fear it is both sides’ conviction that the “state” is incapable of action.
They view the state as non-existent or even unfeasible. Some of those with actual decision-making power do not want this very real threat of war to become a stimulus for proposing the “state” as an alternative to their fiendish options.
It would be naive to think that what is happening in Lebanon today is simply the inevitable ripple effect of the crisis in Syria. There is no doubt that developments in both countries are closely linked, but their roots in Lebanon – and perhaps even in Syria – are much deeper and go back much further than the start of the Syrian crisis.
These recurrent troubling developments are specifically rooted in the almost complete acceptance of the deeply ingrained myth that the Lebanese can only live in a “house of many mansions.” This acceptance has long been reinforced by an always flourishing industry of fear mongering which promotes the idea that “sectarian diversity” cannot be touched when building the Lebanese state.
The aim of this fear business, meanwhile, has always been to prevent the Lebanese from contemplating any natural alternative to the feudal political system that controls their relations with one another and decides how they live their lives.
In reality, it has been under the cover of this sectarian diversity that consecutive rulers – with the exception of the short lived Fouad Chehab era – have enshrined a magic formula to preserve their interests based on “very little government, just enough to protect an extreme liberal economic model.”
Perhaps the best proof of this is that in the period after the Taif Agreement, the ruling elites (old and new) scurried to undermine the chance to build a strong state, a unified society and a strong economy. This chance was very real following a war that was destructive in all senses of the word.
Instead, they reproduced the same ruling formula. This time using mechanisms that were even more immoral, wanton and cynical than the ones that triggered the war.
The feudal system was reinvigorated as a necessary condition for regulating relations among these elites, and for sharing the spoils of government between them.
The breakdown of the mirage of stability since 2004 also proves the feudal nature of this new regime. Such a regime can only work if there is a referee authorized to blow his whistle and restore discipline to the pitch whenever there is any threat to the above formula.
As soon as the Syrian regime became weakened and lost the authority it had been given to play the role of referee, the game was ruined. Now, no one can control it without the threat of war.
Maintaining the system has come at a huge cost. Those running it have exiled increasing numbers of young people and families, casting them out to seek security and job opportunities. They decided to set up a political-economic system which is completely hostage to outside remittances and contributions. They financed consumption through debt and serviced it with the remittances sent home by their human exports.
The ruling elite have introduced a growing appetite for spending leading to the accumulation of a public debt that keeps growing, causing the decline of economic production. This in turn encourages more people to migrate.
Those who are not lucky enough to migrate are absorbed into government institutions or are pushed into marginal activities that feed the very same model. Public spending has been directed towards servicing the mechanisms that promote more concentration of wealth. This process has sharply increased social inequality and led to the collapse of infrastructure and public services.
This has not happened accidentally. The process of redistribution of wealth was working with unprecedented success, providing all the conditions necessary for the system to continue. The mantra that “the state is a lousy businessman” was promoted, even though the state should not be a businessman and should not seek profit beyond maximizing profits for its citizens.
Lebanese people had to increasingly resort to selling their loyalty in return for jobs, compensation, health and education services. Thus, the state became a collection of feudal fiefdoms. This contributed to the further weakening of the state until it was no longer able to fulfill the most basic of needs, providing the opportunity for local feudal lords to pose as the alternative and acquire even more wealth.
Today, as the Lebanese stand on the brink of carnage, there is an absence of initiatives from outside the destructive polarized groupings. No one is proposing even the simplest dialogue to escape this “inevitable” outcome. All political players are behaving as if the Lebanese should be grateful that they have not led them into all out war yet. There is no one who has the courage to simply say “no” to those who are waiting to see what will happen in Syria.
No. A state, with all its necessary conditions, is possible in Lebanon. It is needed today more than ever, especially because of what is happening in Syria.
Mohammad Zbeeb is an economic affairs columnist for Al-Akhbar.
This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.