By Mohammad Mazhari

Lebanon needs a political solution before economic initiative: professor

April 4, 2022 - 18:44
‘There are internal and external reasons for problems in Lebanon’

TEHRAN- A professor of political science at the Lebanese University believes that the solutions to the economic problems in Lebanon must be political in the first place before any economic decision.

“The solution must be political in the first place, and after the political solution we can talk about the economic solution,” Laure Abi-Khalil tells the Tehran Times.

“The political economy in Lebanon allows the ruling elites to monopolize wealth at the expense of the majority which has led to destroying the state,” Abi-Khalil adds.

The Lebanese political scholar also says, “The (Persian) Gulf states should lift the boycott and the Western powers also must remove financial sanctions on Lebanon, and then we can talk about internal solutions.”

Following is the text of the interview:

Q: What are the main reasons for the miserable economic situation in Lebanon?

A: There are internal reasons and external ones. The internal reasons are due to the domestic economic policies that Prime Minister Rafic Hariri adopted in the 1990s when he set monetary policies that abolished production as the service sector was prioritized at the expense of the manufacturing sector.

Of course, this policy led to the so-called stage of bankruptcy of the Lebanese people, because the economy cannot be based on services without production and productive policies in the field of agriculture and industry.

“Sectarianism affects all aspects of life in Lebanon.”The second reason is the rampant corruption in public institutions and the state. Of course, there are studies and reports that indicate that about fifty billion dollars have been looted from the public treasury, and it is not yet known how it was spent.

The Lebanese President has called for a criminal audit because the political class rejected this matter and it does not want a criminal audit, but rather manipulates the value of the dollar and the fate of the Lebanese people in order to cover up its corruption.

Of course, they call for amnesty for financial crimes, because after the Lebanese civil war in 1990 came the Taif Agreement and then the general amnesty when it comes to all kinds of all war crimes, rather than accountability; it was a prelude to establishing a selective justice in the country. These Political leaders who were warlords, now demand a general amnesty for their financial crimes.

The third factor, which is also internal, is the smuggling of subsidized foodstuffs to other countries from Lebanon.

Of course, this problem is due to the culture of corruption among merchants in Lebanon, who don’t care about the future of the Lebanese people. All of these things are for internal reasons.

As for the external causes, we witnessed that there was an American move to pressurize the Lebanese economy and its banking system under the pretext of Hezbollah’s dealings with Iran.

This policy led to the suspension of foreign transfers and also hampering the dealing with the Lebanese banking sector via the imposition of sanctions on this system.

We do not forget that there are external pressures related to border demarcation and the gas wealth in Lebanon, which the Israeli enemy seeks to control in a tortuous way through Western countries and complicated agendas. This is also a major factor in the collapse of the Lebanese economy.

Q: How did sectarianism affect the development process in Lebanon?

A: Of course, the concept of consensual democracy, which is used in the Lebanese model, consolidates sectarian identities, which have increased and institutionalized social inequality.

Sectarianism affects all aspects of life in Lebanon, including marriage, social relations, political representation, judicial appointments, recruitment of people in the public administrations, and so on.

“The government establishment in Lebanon is worn out and there have been no appointments based on the principle of competence for more than thirty years.”All of these are included in the practice of what is known as nepotism, whereas consensual democracy activates the role of sectarian parties.

Political leaders provide services for their social base to obtain support from citizens, so these leaders help the members of their sect to secure jobs and here I am talking about “sect kings” who are ready to practice all kinds of corruption to protect their position or social base.

I can say that consensual democracy paralyzes the process of nation-building, which can hamper the process of adopting policies that achieve the public interest. Of course, these policies that are set by governments depend on what the leaders of the sects want in order to serve the interests of the sects and regions they represent.

There are no restrictions to stop sect leaders, so they are free to practice corruption to achieve the goals they intend in order to maintain their presence in power.

Q: Don’t you think Lebanon is suffering from a lack of belonging to the homeland?

A: In Lebanon, there is no strong feeling of belonging to the homeland. For example, the Lebanese ruling class and politicians have neglected the formal education system, whether in public schools or in Lebanese universities, which greatly have affected the level of social advancement, increasing inequality rates in the long run.

In Lebanon, spending on education is very low compared to other countries in the world.

I can say that the political economy in Lebanon allows the ruling elites to monopolize wealth at the expense of the majority which has led to destroying the state. Thus, the solution must be political in the first place, and after the political solution, we can talk about the economic solution.

Of course, the solution comes from the outside; The (Persian) Gulf States should lift the boycott and the Western powers also must remove financial sanctions on Lebanon, and then we can talk about internal solutions.

Q: You pointed to the role of foreign countries in an expected economic relief for Lebanon. Could you update us on how did foreign states contribute to entrenching corruption in Lebanon?

A: Of course, the key to the solution is abroad, and any settlement in the region will push the Lebanese parties towards reconciliation. 

The key to the solution in the first place is a regional settlement that includes Syria, Iran, America and Turkey, after which there must be an international contribution that helps Lebanon financially. I am talking about the International Monetary Fund and the donor countries that demand economic reforms. 

The political authority must endorse the process of close scrutiny, and there should be no bargaining to pass deals between corrupt leaders at the expense of the Lebanese people.

The role of some (Persian) Gulf States is important in terms of abandoning their interference to help the stability in Lebanon.

The Taif Agreement must be implemented, specifically the abolition of political sectarianism, the election of Parliament with no sectarian identity, and the building of a civil state that abolish the role of sectarian leaders and authorities.

 The current economic situation in Lebanon helps increase corruption indicators due to the existing poverty and relative deprivation while getting out of the crisis becomes more and more difficult with time.

 There must be a regional and international understanding that reflects positively on Lebanon’s political scene especially when it comes to finding solutions that help in the establishment of productive economic projects.

Q: Do you think the government establishment in Lebanon with its current structure is able to solve the problems facing the country?

The government establishment in Lebanon is worn out and there have been no appointments based on the principle of competence and merit for more than thirty years.

All employees in public administrations did not take the Civil Service Council exams in order to enter the public office. Employment in public administrations and public institutions is based on nepotism and the relationship of individuals to sect leaders.

Under this concept, we cannot say expect the government or public institutions to solve problems because every employee is affiliated with his sectarian leader and works according to the dictates of the sectarian leader.

To get out of this crisis, we must start restructuring the state's departments and institutions, keeping the employee who has competence and merit, and finding work for the employee who does not have competence.

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