Lebanon: Regime in Crisis and the Opportunity for Change

Change is possible only when the existing regime becomes seriously debilitated and cannot operate effectively for any number of reasons (Photo: Haytham Moussawi)
Published Thursday, March 21, 2013
The Lebanese regime appears to be in such a deep state of crisis that it is unable carry out the smallest of tasks – from the complete failure of its governing mechanisms to its inability to agree on a new electoral law. This situation poses a series of questions about the fate of the current system and prospects for changing it.

The regime’s problem goes well beyond its inability to come up with a new electoral law. The crisis can be traced back to the departure of the Syrians from Lebanon in 2005. Since then, successive governments have effectively failed to manage the simplest affairs of the state, such as producing an annual budget.

Disputes among the ruling parties mean that cabinet decisions are not implemented, so sideline discussions are opened up to resolve the matter in the form of strange innovations like the National Dialogue Roundtable.

Throughout history, no ruling class has ever decided to change a system from which they benefit. Change is possible only when the existing regime becomes seriously debilitated and cannot operate effectively for any number of reasons, such as a change in external factors that once influenced and sustained it.

In Lebanon that opportunity came between the years 2005 and 2006, or more precisely, just after the Doha Agreement, when a substantial number of powerful political actors joined the ranks of the regime, including Saad al-Hariri, Michel Aoun, Samir Geagea, and arguably Sayyid Hassan Nasrallah.

These new participants in the political system chose not to seize the opportunity to implement fundamental changes, and it is too late now for them to do so. What is required then is to locate and support social movements with the requisite weight to open up this opportunity once again.

There is no use, for example, in raising our hopes over those social forces that are vulnerable to sectarian manipulation, such as in the example of the electricity contract workers, whose movement was blunted due to its lack of independence from the ruling sectarian parties.

The current struggle by the Union Coordination Committee (UCC) is far more promising in this respect, but remains limited as long it does not effect change in people’s attitudes, despite the fact that many do respect and praise its actions. Most people support the existing system not because they view it as optimal, but rather because they believe it is relatively better than any of the other options.

For example, many Lebanese were not wholly pleased with the Taif Agreement that ended the civil war, but nevertheless believed it was superior to the alternative at the time, which was continued militia rule.

It is therefore enough for citizens to be content with the existing system to guarantee its continuation – repeating slogans about the corrupt and ineffective political class will not lead people to abandon them. It is incumbent on every movement for change to put forward an alternative and elaborate how it can win.

The breach that is necessary to change the system will not come as a result consciousness-raising alone, it happens when people begin to support demands and schedules of implementation that the existing regime cannot deliver.

Charbel Nahas is an economist and the former telecommunications and labor minister of Lebanon.

This article is an edited translation from the Arabic Edition.

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The views expressed in this article are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of this Blog!

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