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Generational Dynamics Web Log for 17-Jul-2021
17-Jul-21 World View -- Lebanon's self-destruction continues as government collapses again a year after port disaster

Web Log - July, 2021

17-Jul-21 World View -- Lebanon's self-destruction continues as government collapses again a year after port disaster

World Bank: Lebanon among the worst economic disasters since 1857

by John J. Xenakis

This morning's key headlines from

A year after port disaster, Lebanon still can't form a government

Aftermath of August 4, 2020, port explosion in Beirut Lebanon (Reuters)
Aftermath of August 4, 2020, port explosion in Beirut Lebanon (Reuters)

Lebanon continued its path to self-destruction on Thursday, when Saad al-Hariri, who had been designated to form the first government following the massive port explosion in Beirut on August 4 of last year, resigned.

He offered his resignation after meeting with Lebanon's President Michel Aoun. According to Hariri, Hariri's attempts to form a government were thwarted by Aoun, who demanded that Hariri change his proposed slate of ministers so that Iran-backed Hezbollah leader Hassan Nasrallah would have a "blocking third," which means that Nasrallah could veto any proposal of any other sect of the government, giving Nasrallah effective dictatorial control of the government.

Hariri has been prime minister three times in the past, but resigned in 2019, complaining that massive corruption was destroying the country's economy. Shortly after the port blast, Hariri agreed to return if he were allowed to choose his government cabinet ministers. In his statement on Thursday, he said:

"I withdrew from forming the government. Aoun demanded some amendments, which he considered essential, and said we will not be able to reach an understanding with each other. ... And may God save this country.

I resigned in 2019 because I wanted a government of experts, and if we formed Michel Aoun’s government then the country won’t be saved.

The main problem of this country is Michel Aoun, who is allied with Hezbollah, who in turn protects him. This is the equation in the country and if someone can’t see it then they’re blind."

Incredibly, a year has gone by since the port explosion, and the corrupt politicians running the country have done nothing except continue to line their own pockets.

The economy had been in free fall even before the explosion, with a crashing currency and an unemployment rate above 30%.

About 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate fertilizer had been left unprotected, sitting in a storage warehouse since 2013, adjacent to a fireworks factory, in the midst of a densely packed residential area. Later investigations showed that Hezbollah had been using the ammonium nitrate fertilizer to build bombs to be used in Syria. When the explosion occurred, 300,000 people lost their homes from the explosion, hundreds were killed, and thousands were wounded. 85% of the country's grain storage was destroyed. Several hospitals were destroyed. The explosion was far larger than anyone had ever seen, and property was damaged and windows broken all across the city, and for miles around. The explosion could be heard as far away as Cyprus.

The explosion was massive and destructive, but apparently not destructive enough to shake loose Iran-backed Hezbollah's control of Lebanon.

World Bank: Lebanon among the worst economic disasters since 1857

According to the World Bank in a report published in March, Lebanon's financial crisis is among the top ten, and possibly the top 3, in world history in the period since 1857 to the present. According to the report:

"In fact, Lebanon’s GDP plummeted from close to US$ 55 billion in 2018 to an estimated US$ 33 billion in 2020, with US$ GDP/ capita falling by around 40 percent. Such a brutal and rapid contraction is usually associated with conflicts or wars. ... This illustrates the magnitude of the economic depression that the country is enduring, with sadly no clear turning point on the horizon, given the disastrous deliberate policy inaction.

[In Fall 2020], the World Bank [termed] Lebanon’s economic crisis The Deliberate Depression. For over a year, Lebanese authorities countered an assailment of compounded crises -- namely, the country’s largest peace-time economic and financial crisis, COVID-19 and the Port of Beirut explosion -- with deliberately inadequate policy responses. The inadequacy is less due to knowledge gaps and quality advice and more the result of a combination of (i) a lack of political consensus over effective policy initiatives; and (ii) political consensus in defense of a bankrupt economic system, which benefited a few for so long. In the face of these challenges, Lebanon lacks a fully-functioning executive authority and is currently in the process of forming its third Government in a little over a year. This debilitating institutional void has lasted over 8 months so far."

In other words:

During the last year, nothing has changed. The year has simply been wasted by government officials, especially Aoun and Nasrallah, who don't want anything to change.

In August of last year, after the port explosion, France's president Emmanuel Macron led an international conference which pledged nearly $300 million in humanitarian assistance. However, the money was withheld until a reform government could be formed, because otherwise the $300 million would simply go into the pockets of the politicians and their cronies.

A month later, there was no movement to reform. Macron said at a news conference, "I’m ashamed of the Lebanese political leaders. Ashamed." He accused them of “collective betrayal” and choosing “to favor their partisan and individual interests to the general detriment of the country.”

The main stumbling block, then and today, was that the Shiite sect demanded complete control of the finance ministry, which means that Nasrallah would be able to use Lebanon's treasury for any purpose he wanted. What always happens in situations like these is that Nasrallah and Hezbollah don't dare to open the books of the finance ministry to scrutiny, since that would reveal years of robbery, embezzlement and corruption that had previously been hidden.

Lebanon's 'confessional' system of government

In the past few months I've become aware of the brilliance of the US Constitution and its ability to withstand these kinds of crises. This is because of its system of checks and balances among the three branches of government at the federal level, and the checks and balances between the federal governments and the state governments. I expect the US Constitutional form of government to withstand the current attack, especially as vote audits in Arizona, Georgia and other states are revealing what actually happened in the 2020 election. These audits could not be occurring except for the checks and balances in the US Constitution.

However, there are no checks and balances whatsoever in Lebanon's government, and that's why corruption is out of control and why the country is unable to form a government in the wake of the massive explosion that leveled much of Beirut -- an explosion that is the fault of incompetence and corruption in Lebanon's government.

Lebanon has a "dynastic confessional" system of government. Lebanon's "confessional" system of government is defined in its constitution, which requires that the three main government offices be occupied by specific sectarian groups:

So there are three "branches" of government in Lebanon, but there are no checks and balances, since the leader of each branch can do whatever he wants, including skimming money and paying his cronies to do things like beat up people in the opposition, and there is nothing to stop them. That's why each branch forms a kind of "dynasty."

As time goes on, each sect creates its own dynasty within the section of government that it controls. So one way to think of Lebanon's government is, not as a simple dictatorship, but as a triple dictatorship, which each dynastic sect have complete dictatorial control over one part of government, with complete power of embezzlement and corruption, and no controls, no checks, no balances.

This system of government was set up that way for a reason. The sects that I've mentioned -- the Sunni Muslims, the Shia Muslims, and the Syriac Maronite Catholics -- consider people in any but there own sect to be "scum of the earth." The different sects of Lebanon are not capable of simply getting along with each other. The level of mutual hatred between the sects runs extremely deep. This is standard fare after an ethnic civil war in any country.

Lebanon's last generational crisis war was the civil war of 1975-90, mainly between Muslims versus Christians, killing some 200,000 people. A major event occurred on September 15-16, 1982, when Maronite Christian militias massacred 2-3,000 Palestinian civilians in the Sabra and Shatila Palestinian refugee camps. This act has haunted Lebanon to this day.

That was 40 years ago. Most of the people today vividly remember the horror of that mass slaughter, and many are still traumatized by it. And they still hate each other for it. So the "confessional" form of government in Lebanon was designed to keep the three sects as separate as possible -- the complete opposite of mutual checks and balances. No sect will have any say over what the other sects do, even when it's corruption or other criminal activity.

If I understand correctly the reason given by al-Hariri for resigning from his appointment to form a government is that he was trying to break through this confessional blockade so that the government could actually function.

Even though the port explosion was massive and horrific, it wasn't bad enough to cause Hezbollah chief Nasrallah to give up any of his dictatorial power. Better to let the people starve.


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(Comments: For reader comments, questions and discussion, see the Generational Dynamics World View News thread of the Generational Dynamics forum. Comments may be posted anonymously.) (17-Jul-2021) Permanent Link
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