Lebanon crisis
Once a dynamic country, Lebanon has been reeling under one crisis after another Image Credit: Ador Bustamante/Gulf News

These are dark days in Lebanon, literally. The entire country went into darkness last week as the two largest power plants ran out of fuel. Lebanon is today a powerless state, in both the literal and symbolic sense.

The latter was evident on Thursday as supporters of Shiite and Christian parties exchanged fire for a few hours in the absence of the security forces. For years, Lebanon has been described as a failed state. Today, it is a non-existent state. And it has always been, many say.

Modern nations states are usually born in a natural progression. The existence of a group of people, with mostly common heritage, shared believes and culture, who live in a certain area defined geographically by natural boundaries — mountains, a sea, a river, etc.

The community develop laws and norms to organise their lives and govern the relationship between members of the community. Those laws are applied by an authority, which is respected by the public in exchange of the essential services provided by that authority — education, health, roads, and of course electricity and water.

Is it a modern nation state?

As per these standards, Lebanon doesn’t register as a modern nation state. The small Arab country was born a hundred years ago through surgical incisions, a Caesarean birth. Certainly not a natural progression. It was carved out of Greater Syria by the French after the defeat of the Ottomans in World War I.

At the end of the Great War, Britain and France ‘inherited’ and divided the Arab world between them. Syria became a French mandate state. And in September 1920, the High Commissioner of the French Mandate State, General Henri Gouraud announced the establishment of the State of Greater Lebanon with Beirut as its capital.

Other areas were integrated in the new creation: Sidon, Tyre, Marjayoun, Tripoli and Akkar, Bekaa. On 23 May 1926, a French appointed council of representatives approved a constitution and declared the establishment of the Lebanese Republic.

The newly born state included three main religious communities: Maronite Christians and Sunni and Shiite Muslims, in addition to many other smaller communities such as Druze, Orthodox Christians, Armenians and Alawis among others.

The Muslim leaders refused to recognise the new state. They sought a reunification with Syria. The Maronite leaders wanted the French administration and army to remain ‘as a guarantee for the safety and well-being of the Arab Christians’ in the largely Muslim region.

Tussles, negotiations and sporadic quarrels continued for some 15 years until a compromise reached in 1943 when Sunni leader Riyadh Al Solh and his Maronite counterpart Bishara Al Khoury agreed on a new national charter to pave the way for Lebanon’s independence from France.

The compromise was based on the premise that to achieve independence, ‘Christians must give up the demand for France’s protection, and Muslims must give up their demand to rejoin Greater Syria’.

Collapse of financial system 

As for the services rendered by authorities, as part of any social deal between the official state and its people, it is quite apparent that the Lebanese state has failed big time on that front.

The financial system has collapsed (the Lebanese Lira lost in the past 18 months nearly 90 per cent of its value against the US dollar), so has both the education and health systems. And for years, the Lebanese suffered from severe shortage of electricity and last week the entire country went off.

So, where do go from here? What is the way forward? Sadly, the future doesn’t look brighter. And to put it bluntly, things are looking much worse going forward. I will explain why.

Since that deal between Al Solh and Al Khoury in 1943, the word ‘compromise’ has become the rule in managing public affairs in Lebanon. Except of course when, intermittently or frequently, depending on how you look at Lebanon, the gun calls the shots.

(That happened in the 1976-1990 civil war, in 2008 when Hezbollah overtook the capital Beirut, and most recently on Thursday when supporters of Hezbollah and its ally Amal movement exchanged heavy fire with supporters of the Lebanese Forces Party). On those occasions, ‘compromise’ failed.

The idea of citizenship in the nation state doesn’t actually exist in Lebanon. It remains a tribal society where each community lives in the protection of sectarian leaders. The laws are applied selectively.

Crimes go unpunished if the perpetrator is a follower of certain strong party. Bringing a criminal to justice might impair the sectarian sensitivity and would lead to ‘sectarian sedition’, as they love to say in Lebanon.

A complex history

Compromise again. For example, the suspects in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri are yet to be apprehended by the authorities because they allegedly belong to Hezbollah, the most powerful Shiite party.

Before that, a mass pardon was granted for all those accused of war crimes during the civil war as part of, again, the compromise reached between Muslims and Christians to end the war, including members of the Christian Phalanges party, who committed the most despicable atrocity in the country’s history, the Sabra and Shatila camps massacre, in 1982.

However, ‘compromise’ doesn’t help to build a viable state. It takes the force of the law, applied equally and fairly, to develop a functioning society. That is exactly why Lebanon failed since 1943 to grow as a modern state.

Let us not confuse here the Lebanese state with the Lebanese people, who are one of the most talented, cultured and successful people in the world. Individually, the Lebanese are creative, productive and great company. The official state cannot be credited the least for that. It is an individual effort.

A state dependent on the rule of compromise is bound to fail anyway. The civil war was an empirical proof of the limitation of compromise. The 1976-1990 civil war broke out thus when the Muslims found out that compromise can no longer work.

They complained that their Maronite partners have become overpowering, controlling in the process almost all state sectors. The system collapsed and took a civil war, where tens of thousands killed and many more displaced, to put some sense back into the system. To force the religious partners to deal fairly.

Today, Hezbollah, and its community, seems intent on upsetting the rule of compromise. It has become so overpowering, pulling all the important strings in a collapsed state, and it is clear that other communities can no longer tolerate it.

Thursday’s shooting is a signal that others are willing to face up to the only armed group in Lebanon. In short and as per the technical analysis, it took the civil war for other communities to face up to one overpowering, all-controlling community and to fix a collapsing system. Will it take another civil war to stand up to a new overpowering, an all controlling community?

The signs are there. God forbid! As of now the future doesn’t look so bright for the vibrant Lebanese people.