FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail

Is “Lebanon” the Tea Party Utopia?

by JEFF KLEIN

Tensions are very high in Lebanon right now, as the tiny country teeters on the verge of being swept into the of civil war in neighboring Syria.  The fighting across the border – and spilling at times into Lebanon itself — has polarized the already fractious population as the various confessional and political communities are drawn to take one side or another.

However, “crisis” is nothing new to the Lebanese scene.  It can be said to be endemic to its political structure.

Lebanon is a middle-income country with a per-capita GDP about equivalent to the less wealthy states of Europe (Croatia, Russia, Bulgaria) and some of the more prosperous economies of Latin America (Uruguay, Panama, Mexico).  It’s capital, Beirut, is a lively metropolis, housing about half of the country’s 4 million permanent inhabitants, and the site of a flourishing business, banking and high-tech economy.  The frenetic pace of construction is visible everywhere you look.  And yet amid this hyper-commercialism and rampant but unregulated new building, the country remains a dysfunctional mess, even a nightmare.

A few illustrations:

–Electricity is cut frequently — supposedly according to a regular schedule, but often unpredictable; in Beirut power is available on the average 12-16 hours a day, sometimes less.  The government attributes the shortage to destruction of the country’s infrastructure during the Civil War after 1975. But what is the excuse for failing to remedy the situation 23 years after the war’s end?

People are forced to cope with the power shortages in whatever way they can.  The poor do without, some better-off families have back-up battery supply and others their own generators.  In Beirut there are private power suppliers in many neighborhoods with their own ramshackle distribution networks that kick in when the public power is off.  Where I was staying, in South Beirut, low-amperage power (enough to run some lights, a TV or a computer) turns on when the public electricity is cut — at an additional monthly cost of double what the public power company charges. The wealthy, of course, have made their own arrangements and are scarcely inconvenienced by the power cuts.

–Lebanon is probably the best-watered country in the Middle East.  It has many rivers and even now in June there is snow on the mountaintops of the Lebanon and Anti-Lebanon peaks.  Yet in Beirut, what comes out of the taps is saltwater, literally. It is undrinkable, and It’s even hard to wash properly, as soap does not lather very well in this brackish water.  Plumbing fixtures in bathrooms and kitchens are corroded and difficult to maintain in good working order. Why? Uncontrolled development and poor protection of the local aquifer has allowed it to be completely infiltrated by seawater.  So everyone has to buy potable water, at significant expense.  Again, the rich make their own arrangements.

–Almost all the beautiful shoreline of Beirut is private, with swanky beach and swim clubs, fancy restaurants and yacht moorings.  The only access to the sea for Beirut’s poor is the litter-strewn Ramlet al-Bayda public beach to the south. Recent press reports have shown it to be heavily polluted by illegal private sewer connections from unregulated housing developments just inland.  So if you are poor in Beirut and you want to bathe in the sea you are literally forced to swim in shit.

–In fact, almost everything is privatized in Lebanon, even politics, some would say. The government is postponing parliamentary elections due this month because of the unstable situation in the country, but few people take much notice. “Politics” matters little in Lebanon, outside of the elites contending for the spoils of public office and the favors they can sell to influential business interests.

–Of course, inequality is very extreme here.  Lebanon is a playground for Gulf Sheiks and wealthy tycoons from all over the world, while the poor can barely survive.  And the job prospects for those without family or government connections is further undermined by the ubiquitous low-paid labor of impoverished Syrians and Palestinians or imported semi-free workers from Sri Lanka, the Philippines or Africa.

Tax avoidance and corruption is rampant; commercialism and finance reign.  Private interests maintain their own port facilities and organize routine under-the-table smuggling of goods across the borders.

In Lebanon, the state is so feeble it barely exists. By some measures it is not even a state at all, failed or otherwise. If we take Max Weber’s definition of a state as an entity which claims a “monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order” then Lebanon clearly does not qualify.  Even armed force is largely privatized here in the form of various sectarian militias.

Rather Lebanon is a state that never quite came fully into existence out of its colonial past and the contending claims of locality, religious sect and family.  Reform efforts sputtered briefly during the beginning of the “Arab Spring” two years ago, but failed to mobilize mass support among a population dependent on local patronage and private power bases.

This brings us back to the Tea Party reference in the title of this essay.  The Rightwing fantasy of shrinking the US government until it is small enough to “drown in a bathtub” is not necessary in Lebanon. It is already a reality.  Efforts to create a modern state were largely thwarted by its illegitimate and unwieldy colonial legacy, then drowned in blood during more than a decade of civil war.

What developed instead was a kind of commercial anarchy — a free-market utopia or a nightmarish capitalist “state of nature,” depending on your point of view.

So, Tea Partiers, if you want to know what an Ayn Rand-ish fantasy of the future might look like, you can see it now in Lebanon.  Paul Ryan, you are invited to Beirut – but bring extra batteries.

Jeff Klein is a retired local union president, peace and justice activist, Palestinian rights supporter.  He just started a blog at http://atmyangle.blogspot.com/ and can be reached at jjk123@comcast.net

Jeff Klein is a writer and speaker on Middle East issues who travels frequently to the region.  An earlier version of this piece, with illustrations, can be found in his occasional blog: “At a Slight Angle to the Universe.” He can be reached at jjk123@comcast.net.

More articles by:
June 29, 2016
Diana Johnstone
European Unification Divides Europeans: How Forcing People Together Tears Them Apart
Andrew Smolski
To My Less-Evilism Haters: A Rejoinder to Halle and Chomsky
Jeffrey St. Clair
Noam Chomsky, John Halle and a Confederacy of Lampreys: a Note on Lesser Evil Voting
David Rosen
Birth-Control Wars: Two Centuries of Struggle
Sheldon Richman
Brexit: What Kind of Dependence Now?
Yves Engler
“Canadian” Corporate Capitalism
Lawrence Davidson
Return to the Gilded Age: Paul Ryan’s Deregulated Dystopia
Priti Gulati Cox
All That Glitters is Feardom: Whatever Happens, Don’t Blame Jill Stein
Franklin Lamb
About the Accusation that Syrian and Russian Troops are Looting Palmyra
Binoy Kampmark
Texas, Abortion and the US Supreme Court
Anhvinh Doanvo
Justice Thomas’s Abortion Dissent Tolerates Discrimination
Victor Grossman
Brexit Pro and Con: the View From Germany
Manuel E. Yepe
Brazil: the Southern Giant Will Have to Fight
Rivera Sun
The Nonviolent History of American Independence
Adjoa Agyeiwaa
Is Western Aid Destroying Nigeria’s Future?
Jesse Jackson
What Clinton Should Learn From Brexit
Mel Gurtov
Is Brexit the End of the World?
June 28, 2016
Jonathan Cook
The Neoliberal Prison: Brexit Hysteria and the Liberal Mind
Paul Street
Bernie, Bakken, and Electoral Delusion: Letting Rich Guys Ruin Iowa and the World
Anthony DiMaggio
Fatally Flawed: the Bi-Partisan Travesty of American Health Care Reform
Mike King
The “Free State of Jones” in Trump’s America: Freedom Beyond White Imagination
Antonis Vradis
Stop Shedding Tears for the EU Monster: Brexit, the View From the Peloponnese
Omar Kassem
The End of the Atlantic Project: Slamming the Brakes on the Neoliberal Order
Binoy Kampmark
Brexit and the Neoliberal Revolt Against Jeremy Corbyn
Doug Johnson Hatlem
Alabama Democratic Primary Proves New York Times’ Nate Cohn Wrong about Exit Polling
Ruth Hopkins
Save Bear Butte: Mecca of the Lakota
Celestino Gusmao
Time to End Impunity for Suharto’’s Crimes in Indonesia and Timor-Leste
Thomas Knapp
SCOTUS: Amply Serving Law Enforcement’s Interests versus Society’s
Manuel E. Yepe
Capitalism is the Opposite of Democracy
Winslow Myers
Up Against the Wall
Chris Ernesto
Bernie’s “Political Revolution” = Vote for Clinton and the Neocons
Stephanie Van Hook
The Time for Silence is Over
Ajamu Nangwaya
Toronto’s Bathhouse Raids: Racialized, Queer Solidarity and Police Violence
June 27, 2016
Robin Hahnel
Brexit: Establishment Freak Out
James Bradley
Omar’s Motive
Gregory Wilpert – Michael Hudson
How Western Military Interventions Shaped the Brexit Vote
Leonard Peltier
41 Years Since Jumping Bull (But 500 Years of Trauma)
Rev. William Alberts
Orlando: the Latest Victim of Radicalizing American Imperialism
Patrick Cockburn
Brexiteers Have Much in Common With Arab Spring Protesters
Franklin Lamb
How 100 Syrians, 200 Russians and 11 Dogs Out-Witted ISIS and Saved Palmyra
John Grant
Omar Mateen: The Answers are All Around Us
Dean Baker
In the Wake of Brexit Will the EU Finally Turn Away From Austerity?
Ralph Nader
The IRS and the Self-Minimization of Congressman Jason Chaffetz
Johan Galtung
Goodbye UK, Goodbye Great Britain: What Next?
Martha Pskowski
Detained in Dilley: Deportation and Asylum in Texas
FacebookTwitterGoogle+RedditEmail