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A Duel on a Sinking Ship

A Duel on a Sinking Ship

Monday, 9 December, 2019 - 10:45
Ghassan Charbel
Ghassan Charbel is the editor-in-chief of Asharq Al-Awsat newspaper

Foreign observers find it difficult to understand the developments of the Lebanese situation and its sudden turns. This is not surprising. Lebanon is not a normal democracy, to which the known rules of such system apply.


Lebanon’s democracy is bizzare. It resembles nothing but itself. A fragile democracy that is constantly on the brink of collapse and only escapes with treatments that today are no longer available.


The Lebanese find it difficult to explain to non-Lebanese what is going on in the Land of Cedars. The game there is not governed by the accepted rules regarding elections, majority, and minority.


It is not enough to reflect on the provisions of the constitution to understand the story. It is true there is a constitution that is supposed to regulate the life of this republic that is heading towards bankruptcy. But the constitution alone is not enough.


There are turns, circumventions, and ambiguities, as well as the ingenuity of the designers of derogatory constitutional models, who have imaginations that exceed the skillful minds of the most famous fashion designers such as Elie Saab, Zuhair Murad, and others.


Unfortunately, the constitution is not the referee, nor has it the last say. In difficult seasons, it becomes the victim, not the guardian. Disregarding the constitution has become entrenched, as has the habit of disregarding the citizens.


Lebanese political games seemed amusing and cute on normal days. But they are painful and provocative in a country that sends out distress calls, such as drifting ships at sea… A country, in which words such as collapse and bankruptcy are in all conversations… A country, where a citizen commits suicide for not being able to secure half a dollar for his daughter or sets himself on fire for his inability to provide bread or to pay school fees for his children.


I don’t want to be too pessimistic and say that a beautiful Lebanon is just a lie that was invented by the Rahbanis and promoted by the scattered gold from the voice of Fairouz.


I was willing to write about another topic. But what happened yesterday provoked me.


The prevailing impression was that the binding parliamentary consultations, which President Michel Aoun was scheduled to conduct after a long wait and stalling, would result in the nomination of businessman Samir al-Khatib. The latter was expected to form the government that would face the most difficult task in Lebanon’s independent history, especially since the economic collapse is no longer an imminent threat, but rather a reality.


According to rumors, the choice of Khatib would have freed the government from the burden of some ministers, who went too far in poisoning the Lebanese water of coexistence.


Suddenly, Khatib, following a visit to Grand Mufti Abdullatif Derian, announced his withdrawal from the race, saying that the Sunni community was unanimous in supporting Saad Hariri as prime minister.


Hariri had previously announced that he was not interested in forming the new government, after the other team insisted on a techno-political cabinet. He argued that only a technocrat government could help resolve the economic and financial collapse and address the international community.


With the postponement of binding parliamentary consultations, it seemed clear that it was difficult to overcome what became known as the “Hariri node”.


This node started since his father’s entry in the club of prime ministers in 1992 with an exceptional aura and as a striking force based on an arsenal of Arab and international relations, in addition to his financial capabilities.


Hariri succeeded in becoming the axis around which the regime revolved, despite the Syrian tutelage in Lebanon. The search for the president of the republic began on the basis of who can control and obstruct Hariri, after it became difficult to continue without him.


Despite the differences, the experience was repeated with Saad Hariri, who suddenly emerged in the Lebanese arena, carrying the coffin of his father, whose assassination in 2005 constituted a turning point in the turbulent life of the Republic and put it on the path of decline.


The “Hariri node” was present in the elections and the formation of governments. His presence was imperative and his opponents had no option but to accept him, seek to obstruct him, and set ambushes to topple him whenever the opportunity aroused.


The Hariri government was brought down at the hands of Aoun and his allies. But the man returned to the Serail because he was the strongest in his sect and because he kept most of the arsenal of international relations that his father engineered and excelled in maintaining.


When the Hariri sect insists today on his appointment as prime minister, it acts in the same way as Michel Aoun’s allies, when they kept postponing the presidential elections to ensure his arrival as the figure who represents the most the Maronite community, and after the country suffered for years from what was known as the “Aoun node”.


A third node in the current system is that of Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah. The State is unable to have a say on major issues without his approval.


The past years have consolidated a dangerous norm. The strongest man in a sect or confession cannot be trespassed. This norm has distorted the Lebanese system, even if it was not translated in constitutional texts.


There are those who are demanding the return of Hariri because he is the best able to address the Arab and international community, perhaps because he could save the Lebanese sinking ship. Others are calling for his return to be a partner in bearing the consequences of the collapse, as hopes for survival are diminishing.


The dance of alliances and bickering between the Lebanese islands was taking place in a country that had long succeeded in postponing the hour of truth. But today, it is taking place in a country that witnesses the largest protest movement in its history amid rising poverty, unemployment, and bankruptcy.


Politicians went too far in the game of coalitions and wrangling, and they did not stop at the signs of internal deterioration, nor at the US-Iranian tension line.


Lebanon is a difficult story that transcends its men. It is a magnificent Rahbani lie, where the resounding voice of Fairouz rises above tremendous destruction.


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