Lebanon’s moment of truth has arrived
Lebanese President Michel Aoun gave orders to the army and internal security forces to restore order in downtown Beirut at the weekend. This resulted in bloody clashes between protesters and the security forces, with 377 reprted injured on Saturday night.
The minister of interior condemned the violence while accusing protesters of attacking the security forces. However, the scenes we have seen in downtown Beirut during the "week of rage," as it has been called by the protesters, have one clear explanation: The people no longer want the current political configuration, which is based on a sectarian sharing of power. They are aware that the existing political structure is beyond redemption and that the new government will not be able to conduct any reforms.
They know that the new government will be manned by puppets of the old guard. In fact, the political elite is still bluntly discussing who should get what. The so-called "technocrats" they are planning to put in power are their own people, so the new government, which is reportedly about to be announced, will not be a break from the old regime.
There are chants of "people want to topple the regime."The streets are boiling. The people have lost all trust in the current political elite. However, according to the constitution, any government needs to have the "confidence" of Parliament, which is an outcome of the current political system. Basically, the Lebanese people are trapped with the existing configuration, as those in power will not give their backing to a government that will conduct real reforms, in which they will be swept away.
While the Lebanese are proud to be a democratic country in a sea of dictatorships, today the democracy - or, more precisely, the current democratic structure - is trapping Lebanon in deadlock. The democratic structure is empowering the corrupt political elite that the people are demanding be removed. Since the beginning of the crisis, the powerful have not shown any responsible behaviour. On the contrary, they have shown nothing but arrogance and selfishness. They have transferred their money abroad while decent Lebanese people are struggling to withdraw their hard-earned savings from banks. Regular people have to spend hours in front of the teller to be able to withdraw $300a week, while the politicians' billions have flown out of country.
Meanwhile, Lebanon is being plunged into darkness. In some areas, citizens get only two hours of electricity every six hours. The government is not supplying the country with electricity. Letters of credit have been opened to import fuel. According to activists in Lebanon, the government has imported 378 per cent of the country's yearly total consumption of fuel, yet citizens suffer from a shortage of electricity because the fuel is being smuggled to Syria.
How could the average citizen ever trust such a political configuration? A group of thieves, who even in the dark moments the country is going through, do not forsake any opportunity to enrich themselves at the expense of the average Lebanese. It is time for this to end. The country cannot go on like this. The banks are running out of hard currency and there is a chance they will close.
According to Dr Nasser Yassin, the interim director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut, the country needs between $20 and $25 billion to stand on its feet again. But the international community has been very clear that no aid can be given to Lebanon unless serious reforms are carried out. However, no reforms can be conducted with a political configuration that strives for corruption. Hence, we are deadlocked.
The current configuration needs to go by any means. Here the international community should take a step forward to break the deadlock by putting pressure on them to leave. Unless they do, the country risks being plunged into total chaos, which will definitely not be to the benefit of the international community. Chaos will benefit radicals and shady people. It also risks driving the country into a new civil war.
While everyone is in a wait-and-see mode, it is now time to take action and exert pressure. The political configuration will not go by themselves; they need to be forced to go. They have used the internal security forces to brutally crack down on the protests. They will continue to do so unless someone stops them.
The current political structure has lost legitimacy. Those in power are hiding behind the thin veil of democracy and the constitution, while they have done everything they can to violate both. They need to leave now. The country needs a transitional government that will impose reforms, regain the trust of the people and the international community, and prepare Lebanon for a true non-sectarian democracy.
Lebanon is facing its moment of truth and the international community needs to help, otherwise the country is going to suffer. Enough of the wait-and-see approach - now is the time for the international community to take action.
Dr Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She holds a PhD in politics from the University of Exeter and is an affiliated scholar with the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University of Beirut.