Lebanon: The Road to A Civil State

Article Summary
The possibility of regime change in Syria has provoked mixed reactions in Lebanon, where domestic political dynamics are largely tied to support or opposition of the government in Damascus. Nadim Lahoud here maps a way out of Lebanon’s internal divisions, and towards a secular state and relations with Syria based on equality.

There is no doubt that Syria's endgame will have a positive impact on political and civil developments in Lebanon. However, the toppling of the Assad regime is not the only game-changer that will boost Lebanon and push it towards [establishing] a strong, sustainable state.

Lebanese political camps should not look at the current events in Syria as a divine favor which will tip the balance in their favor. The end of unrest in Syria will only create a more favorable environment suitable for development and for seriously addressing the challenges faced by the country.

Lebanon should turn the page once and for all on the policies of violent threats in the name of political gain. In this context, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon is the first serious attempt to hold those involved in political violence to account. Lebanon ought to seize this golden opportunity to put an end to the era of impunity, especially given that political assassinations were widespread at the domestic level.

Regardless of differences of opinion over the STL, this institution must be dealt with as a fait accompli. As demonstrated by the recent crisis of payments [concerning Lebanon’s international obligation to finance the STL], Lebanon cannot escape from the [obligations of] international legitimacy. This has a direct impact on Lebanon's banking sector, which is a strength and a weakness at the same time. Thus there is no escape from full compliance with the Tribunal’s obligations, including the arrest of suspects and turning them over to justice [i.e. the Tribunal’s authorities].

Should the Assad regime fall Hezbollah would be adversely affected, for it would lose one of its prominent allies - thus increasing its regional isolation. In this context, the opponents of the Shia militant organization should refrain from any kind of "triumphant" acts, which would only exacerbate the existing sectarian rift. On the contrary, political courage will be required to discuss a new political settlement in Lebanon and reach compromises between all segments of society. Within the framework of compromise, Hezbollah must voluntarily give up its arms. With the loss of a [strong] ally like Syria, the Shia party will have to deal with its opponents from the Lebanese perspective.

Moreover, the new regime in Syria may not preserve the same relations with Iran and Hezbollah. It is likely that the long-standing alliance between [the members of] this resistance bloc could turn to [mutual] hostility. Moreover, under a plausible, dangerous scenario, Hezbollah's opponents could seize upon the new regime as a way of clamping down [on the Party of God], in keeping with an age-old Lebanese tradition. Replacing the hegemony of the old Syrian regime with a new one - though with different allies - will close the door on any chance of development in Lebanon. Syria and Lebanon have no choice but to build equal relations between two countries that respect each other’s sovereignty.

With a gross public debt amounting to 135%, Lebanon must work rapidly to regulate and reinforce its ministry of finance. The collection of taxes must be improved, while tax evasion must come to an end. Furthermore, Lebanon must show greater accuracy in public spending. Transparency has become indispensable to concluding government contracts and disclosing all accounts to the public.

In this context, one must shed light on the electricity sector, which costs the ministry of finance nearly US $1.2 billion each year. This is due to mismanagement, corruption and "technical waste." The [state electricity] company needs a comprehensive review and structural reforms at all levels. Moreover, excessive waste in the Council of the South and the [Ministry of the] Displaced must come to a halt. Over the past years, large sums of money were spent by these two funds on virtually nothing.

Liberating the economy will be a prerequisite to stimulating growth and creating job opportunities. Thus, Lebanon must take the following steps: Lifting the state's protection of monopolies, which is one of the most important aspects [enabling] monopolies that shackle the Lebanese economy; [privatizing] the electricity sector, allowing independent power producers to access the network so as to improve its performance and reduce its costs; [privatizing] the telecommunications sector, paving the way for competition [between operators] and sector development; privatizing some public facilities such as wheat silos in Beirut, the ports of Beirut and Tripoli, and the Casino du Liban.

With the fall of Assad, freedoms in Lebanon will automatically expand. However, we do not want to gain freedoms by accident - we should rather strive to achieve them. Thus we ought to put an end to sectarian monopolies at all levels of public life. The starting point should be a new electoral law based on the proportional system, along with a set of fundamental reforms, such as pre-printed ballots and imposing an actual ceiling to electoral spending.

Lebanon should also start to consolidate the foundations of a non-sectarian political system, through studying the mechanisms of establishing a senate council representing all sects and able to effectively address sectarian fears. [This would be] in parallel with [the establishment of] a non-sectarian parliament. Furthermore, an optional civil law of personal status should be set, enabling the state to become the competent authority in settling civil matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance.

Modern Lebanese history has not been recorded since 1945, and as a result the youth from each sectarian group has been instilled with [that group’s] own perspective of the events [which have taken place since]. Thus, it has become a Lebanese habit to evoke divisions and conflicts at every turn.

A revolution is very unlikely to happen on its own. The only way to establish the state sought by progressive Lebanese is to embark on an agonizing path of reforms, taken step by step. The Lebanese must seize opportunities. They cannot simply believe in a civil state and wait for it to establish itself.

The collapse of Assad's regime will undoubtedly create a sudden void on the local scene and will have a huge impact on the balance of power in Lebanon. Liberal, reform-minded Lebanese should act swiftly, before the traditional politicians try to switch alliances and adapt to the change [in Syria]. Liberals should not only advance solutions to the challenges mentioned above, but  implement them through bold, immediate [and decisive action]. Real change depends on their success in this task.

Found in: un in lebanon, un, tax evasion, syrian crisis, syrian-lebanese relations, syrian, sectarian conflict in lebanon, sectarian, stl, privatization in lebanon, lebanese telecommunications sector, lebanese tax policy, lebanese electricity sector, lebanese electoral system, lebanese economy, lebanese domestic politics, justice, hezbollah, electricite du liban, economic privatization, economic, assad regime, assad

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