In many respects, the people of Lebanon are gifted if not blessed. Most of whom this observer has been honored to meet are strikingly intelligent, creative, often charming, sometimes cunning and devious, hardworking, ingenious, adaptive, and good-natured—much like most people in this region including dear friends in Syria.
And all want a real country, and many are working to confront would-be hegemonizing local Iranian militia to get one.
Many analysts argue that Lebanon simply cannot be independent without an effective colonizer unless it can develop its own civil society, which historically has been identified with reform but largely impotent. A free civil society facilitates alliances between divided communities, to build a real country of free and equal citizens with a government that transcends communitarian loyalties. Including civil society organizations becoming more widespread and popular because it is a pillar in the struggle against corruption and exploitation and gives more opportunities to a larger part of the population. One nearly universally held a view of Lebanon’s population is that the state must have a monopoly over its armed forces and be able to impose the States authority over all parties, including foreign sponsored militia.
There are currently 8000 civil society groups registered with Lebanon’s Ministries, but unfortunately, most are severely stymied by corrupt and sectarian officials who bar many of their reform initiatives. Some of which recently have included women’s rights, garbage collection, water quality, protection for foreign domestic workers, the right to work for Palestinian refugees, and opening Parliament to a modicum of public scrutiny and financial as well as judicial accountably. According to the Lebanese Center for Human Rights, that amounts to 1.3 associations per 1,000 inhabitants—about six times the number per capita in Egypt. Deeply regrettably, the war in Syria, has deepened even further Lebanese parliamentary gridlock and has dramatically escalated sectarian tensions, while it has weakened the advocacy role of Lebanese civil society organizations.
In 1999, a Lebanese chapter of Transparency International, known as La Fasad, became active in Beirut. These days, La Fasad works on promoting laws in Parliament to provide public access to information, reminding this observer of the U.S. Freedom of Information Act. True, their efforts meet with resistance from some quarters, but, as one lawyer involved in the initiative recently emailed, “If they don’t want to steal, why don’t they let us watch?” Indeed.
To note just one of the scores of examples. For the past many years certain Lebanese political “leaders” have blocked a solution to the massive garbage crisis leaving exposed mountains of rotting garbage to create many communicable diseases for the people of Lebanon. Until today these “Political Lords” continue to negotiate the amount of cash that is guaranteed to come to them if they deign to sign-off on a ‘garbage collection contract,” quite likely to be awarded to relatives or political friends.
According to a just-released (12/1/2017) Report by Human Rights Watch, Lebanon’s lack of a garbage disposal system and open burning of mountains of waste poses serious health risks.
The main problem according to HRW is “decades-old, across the board government failure. The crisis escalated in 2015 when waste management collapsed across Lebanon, was a particular threat to children and old people and constituted a human rights violation. Nadim Houry, HRW’s interim Beirut director reported that “authorities are doing virtually nothing to bring this crisis under control.
The report, entitled “As If You’re Inhaling Your Death” quoted research by the American University of Beirut (AUB) that found that nearly 80% of Lebanon’s garbage is improperly dumped or landfilled where less than 10 to 12 percent is considered impossible to compost or recycle thus causing the “vast majority” of Lebanese residents living near open dumps, whom HRW researchers interviewed, suffer from serious respiratory problems. HRW claims that Lebanon’s government continues doing nothing to prevent open burning, to monitor its impact and inform the population of the risks.
Consequently, despite widespread Lebanese civil society initiatives for reform, many have become cynical or even bitter, wanting to emigrate at the first opportunity believing that Lebanon offers no future for themselves or for raising a family. Much of Lenson’s civil population has lost confidence that they can change the continuing rampant corruption by some of the Warlords from their 15-year civil war that witnessed 15 million Lebanese flee to other countries. Over the past nearly four decades, self-anointed Political Lord,s politically employing primogeniture and widespread waste (nepotism and influence peddling) have by design become deeply embedded in the halls of power.
A common cliché in Lebanon these days has it that, “Lebanon has never been a real country, is not a real country today, and quite likely will not be in the future.”
Earlier this month, 11/22/2017 was Lebanon’s 43rd Independence Day from French Colonization. Like every year on Independence Day, the Lebanese wondered what kind of independence they were celebrating. One dear friend of this observer who attended the annual Independence Day parade with her secondary school students wrote this observer from Beirut saying:
“No one was impressed. Same old boring corrupt politicians mouthing rubbish words about Lebanon’s “Independence” that no one has believed for decades. Most Lebanese would much prefer the French in Lebanon like they were rather than the increasing takeover of Lebanon by Iran through its militia, Hezbollah. Ever since I was a small child I never felt that Lebanon was a real country. Every day I become surer that we are not.”
Walid Jumblatt, a leader of Lebanon’s Progressive Socialist Party and prominent Druze figure, expressed what this observer is inclined to think most Lebanese believe:
“More than ever I doubt the possibility of Lebanon’s becoming independent because it is a theater of conflict for rival regional and international interests. More than ever I doubt the chance of Lebanon’s being independent and behaving in the interest of its citizens, because of the entrenched connections between the regionally influenced political parties as well as the country’s confessional groups.”
Mr. Jumblatt concluded: “So, Independence Day is just a yearly repetition of an obsolete show that is being held [by] the same actors.”
During the Ottoman Mutassarrifiyya period of 1861–1920, considered by many historians as Lebanon’s only “Long Peace” was perhaps the last time there was “an independent Lebanon” because it was achieved via an international consensus. Powerful countries played a major role in Lebanon’s existence, not by stripping the country of its resources (perhaps because they were relatively limited) but by protecting Lebanon from aggressive hegemonic neighbors and from internal proxy militia forces employing politically designed sectarian antagonisms that risk Lebanon’s implosion.
OBSTACLES TO LEBANON ACHIEVING INDEPENDENCE
Most of Lebanese Sunni, Christians, Druze and the growing body of agnostic or non-religious in the country reportedly believe that Iranian influence, through its militia Hezbollah is the greatest impediment to achieving Lebanon’s independence.
That may well be true but surely Iran’s hegemonic goals in Lebanon are ultimately vulnerable to accumulating resentments, as pointed out recently by Leila Fawaz, Professor of Lebanese and eastern Mediterranean studies at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.
One example she offered is Hezbollah’s minority status in Lebanon, and Iran’s risky overstretch across Iraq and Syria to Lebanon.
Iran’s primary aspiration to control Lebanon and create a land bridge linking Tehran to Beirut and the Mediterranean which grants Iran full control of a military corridor to Hezbollah, and the region more broadly. As researcher and longtime Lebanese journalist Hanin Ghaddar has pointed out recently:
“While the bridge has existed in some form for some time now, this month was the first time Iran was able to exert complete control over this crucial passageway, thanks to its influence in a fractured Syria. For the Iranian regime and the Shia communities in the region, the bridge symbolizes an ideological victory and a unified Shia front. It strengthens the sectarian identity of the Shia at the expense of national identities in Lebanon, Iraq, Syria, and, Yemen, thereby boosting Iranian influence in the region.”
Iran also has competitors, including its current Russian ally, who is carefully pursuing its own role in western Syria. Last year in Aleppo, this observer spent time with Russian and Syrian army intelligence types and during a delicious meal at the only restaurant open at the time near the front line, the Syrian officer impressed this observer with his candor. We had been talking about Daesh and their tactics which did not seem to particularly impress either gentleman. The Syrian officer explained, “Mr Lamb, we Syrians-including my grandchildren are going to be fighting this war for many years. Do not believe that this war is in any way over. But we Syrians will not be fighting ISIS type jihadists, we will be fighting Iran to liberate our country from our real enemy who today controls it.”
The Russian officer agreed as he pushed me his half-empty bottle of Vodka and opened another. One thing that I have learned from countless travels around Syria is that the Syrian army guys prefer the strong Turkish beer Extra (9 % alcohol) the Russian younger army fellows prefer Turkish Efes bear while their older officers love to nurse their Vodka throughout the day and reportedly at night. Many of the countless foreign militia prefer Bekaa Valley Lebanon supplied hashish and captagon and other ‘boosting’ drugs so that they can fight for three days and nights. After which many collapses on the spot from exhaustion and many are rudely awakened by their advancing adversaries and jailed or more likely executed on the spot. Drugs to boast battlefield courage are also used by Hezbollah and plenty of Al Quds Force Iranians. While some of the Afghani specially recruited drug addicts thanks to Iran-Afghan governments humanitarian measure to control Afghanistan’s heroin epidemic need their daily heroin fixes, courtesy of Tehran. Human Rights Watch and other humanitarian organizations and governments accuse Iran of recruiting countless improvised Afghan 14-year olds to fight and die in Syria so that their own IRGC and Hezbollah fighters sustain dramatically fewer loses.
Lebanese citizens can resist the growing foreign occupation of their country if their “leaders” have the necessary courage to confront foreign occupation. A few times in the past– in 2013, 2015, and 2016, Lebanese civil society mobilized against a widely viewed corrupt political class that is divided according to its regional and international loyalties which collectively have plundered the country. For example, if necessary, they must take to the streets and resist Lebanon’s Parliamentarians unconstitutionally and regularly extend their terms without having to face voter’s assessment of their lack of performance at the ballot box. Meanwhile, in Pavlovian fashion, many Lebanese politicians unite to fight against civil society in highly competitive local elections as was the case in Beirut during the last election in 2016.
According to Marc Geara, a candidate on the Beirut Madinati list in Lebanon’s municipal elections of May 2016, “The Lebanese are ripe for independence from leaders (and foreign installed proxy militia-ed) who have been unwilling to provide their constituencies with a minimum level of services. We feel that the ingredients for emancipation are available and that they only require a catalyst. Will that catalyst be civil society, which may eventually be transformed into a united political force for change? The challenge is difficult, but it is worth a try!”
Iran’s people, who are much like Lebanese and Americans in this observer’s opinion, may be allies with the people of Lebanon as they seek their Independence. Increasingly Iranians are rejecting their imposed Ali Khomeini Supreme Leader of Iran absolute dictatorship in favor of human rights and democracy and engaging with the outside World. Several of this observer’s Iranian friends wish Lebanon well and object to Iran’s involvement in Lebanon, Syria, Iraq, Yemen, Afghanistan, Bahrain and elsewhere in this region.
In a protest in Tehran last week against Iranian Supreme Leader Ali Khamenei, some in the crowd accused Khamenei of sending Iranian money to Iraq while “Iran itself is full of poverty and corruption, of young men who steal and women who sell their bodies due to poverty and the high cost of living.”
The video which was tweeted on 11/20/2017 by Bozorgmehr Sharafedin, Reuters’ correspondent on Iranian affairs, on November 20 showed one protester shouting:
“To whose pockets has our money gone? Does Khamenei notice that he is sending our money, Iran’s wealth, to the ruins in Iraq and Syria? Why should our wealth, the money that belongs to us, reach Iraq, Lebanon, and Syria? Iran itself is full of poverty and corruption, full of young men who steal and women who sell their bodies due to poverty and the high cost of living. Why does our leader plunder our money, and send it to others when Iran itself is in ruins.”
One lovely bright student who this observer met and spent time with at Mohammad Beshesti University north of Tehran last year sent me a message from the American civil rights -anti-Vietnam era: “Remember Dr. Lamb: A people united cannot be defeated. Whether in Iran or Lebanon!” We wish our friends in Lebanon Allah’s blessing on their prayers for achievement of Independence.”