FRI 14 - 8 - 2020
Date: Nov 19, 2019
Source: The Daily Star
Uprising washes over moderate voices
Rima Merhi| The Daily Star
Last month I closed my eyes and held hands with fellow Lebanese forming a human ring across the country to express our solidarity, unity and commitment to build a nation capable of withstanding the challenges of the 21st century.

Lebanon currently has one of the highest debt ratios in the world, more than 150 percent of the country’s gross domestic product. As Moody’s downgrades Lebanon’s credit rating as well as the ratings of leading banks, the Lebanese fear a deep recession, capital controls, devaluation of the Lebanese pound and a dollar crisis that risks the collapse of the economy, with ramifications across borders given the strategic location of Lebanon in the region.

Not surprisingly, the Lebanese took to the streets to protest a corrupt, stagnant sectarian regime in dire need of reform. It took a couple of days to see old age divisions surface along long-standing sectarian and political lines, despite widespread consensus against corruption, sectarianism and a dearth of public services provided by the state.

In a region plagued by extremism and division, moderate voices need to be given a fair hearing. The moderates of the uprising acknowledge the right of any Lebanese to protest, but reject the closure of roads to paralyze the country on the grounds that the right to mobility, work, and education are also fundamental rights. They resent the pollution of the environment with burning tires to block roads, particularly after fires ravaged the country, and hold a bold position against all forms of violence. Many left the streets out of fear that the revolution would be usurped by the enemies of Lebanon in a country where most crisis situations sooner or later turn into a microcosm of regional conflicts.

To adopt the extreme position in the street today under the slogan “All of them means all of them” is to surrender to the emotional reactionary sentiments and cries of the people to bring down a government and regime historically backed by foreign powers, when revolutionaries lack a clear and shared vision, leadership, strategic partnerships and a rational, feasible plan forward. It is a recipe for chaos and the people - not the politicians - will pay the heaviest price.

A revolution is a fire in the heart. It is a cry for humanity and justice that marks a new dawn. It is the will of the people to build a dream together, a vision, and move beyond the blame game to realize it. This vision must be all-inclusive, and revolutionaries need the moderates to achieve it in a region plagued by conflict and extremism.

The revolutionaries underscore a basic reality that is very clear in Washington, D.C., circles: Lebanon is not the elephant in the room, it is the ant. Our politicians are divided and corrupt, with warlords among them historically aligned to foreign powers like Saudi Arabia and Iran along Sunni-Shiite divides. Our borders are not safe; the Syria crisis remains unresolved; and Hezbollah’s arms continue to bear legitimacy among a significant portion of the Lebanese population given the history of conflict with Israel. We are on the verge of an economic collapse following years of failed economic and monetary policy. We have failed to build our institutions, especially an independent judicial system.

Our media outlets, banks, hospitals, universities, leading companies in the country, hotels, restaurants and even charities consist of the same circle of political and economic elites that have ruled for decades within the parameters of a clientele system. Thus, the whole concept of us the people versus the government and the regime is a sham that undersells the extent to which this political elite lives in our backyard and the degree of backing it enjoys from a largely silent international community, known to fund conflicting agendas behind the scenes.

The real revolution is in our backyard.

To surpass this juncture, the Lebanese need to move beyond a quota system to ensure fair representation of sects toward a progressive quota system to recruit technocrats. A purely technocrat government will never survive in the face of politicians and militias armed and backed by foreign powers. We need to be moderate and wise, define what we mean by technocrat and demand at least 30 percent of the government be technocrats in the first elections. Let’s have a list of proposed professionals and posts that need to be filled across different ministries to form a new, more legitimate and technocratic government along professional and political lines.

Chanting slogans against politicians will not break them, as they have billions stacked in overseas accounts, and the demand to collectively freeze all their bank accounts may have serious repercussions on an extremely fragile economy where they have the highest stakes across sectors. This should not dampen our morale. We need courageous lawyers and people to collect evidence on corrupt politicians, develop strategic partnerships with independent organizations fighting corruption in Lebanon and overseas to learn from their experience, establish a credible and independent committee of judges to address these national files, and take legal action against them one by one, with the support of the international community. Even if we fail to get the money back, we will deter the theft of billions more dollars and set a precedent for holding them accountable.

Once we have brought the right caliber of people in and taken bold, firm, gradual steps to dismantle the corrupt networks and their leaders, we will have a real chance to develop institutions with a system of checks and balances, as well as policies and guidelines toward a common vision that must begin with our homes, upbringing, culture and understanding of citizenship and nation building.

This is a long and arduous process that cannot happen overnight.

Moderates deserve a fair hearing, especially if they are leading a silent revolution in their own backyards. As the daughter of an expatriate and businessman who had nothing to do with politics all his life and invested in the manufacturing sector in Lebanon to express his pride and faith in Lebanese products and invest in impoverished areas, I tell you we are bleeding to keep our factory open, with no support from the government to build the needed infrastructure to allow us to survive, as borders remain closed to trade with Syria. Most of us have paid more on interest for loans to banks than the value of our investment, leaving us vulnerable in security zones that ought to have the backing of the international community as well as the Lebanese government. We are struggling to buy raw materials due to the dollar crisis and obstacles to transfer with banks closed, and our employees are demanding higher salaries due to the devaluation of the Lebanese pound, as we head towards the unknown. Our revolution ought to include measures and policies that protect Lebanese manufacturers, products and laborers as a national priority in order to build the Lebanese economy, as well as build security in impoverished areas vulnerable to political money and violent agendas.

To the revolutionaries, I say: The politicians are not the government, or the regime, or even another camp. They are in your backyard and mine, so deeply entangled in our lives, and to wage an all-out war on them is to wage a war on your own backyard. We need to claim back the rooms of our home one by one with tact, moderation and the rule of law, supported by friends of Lebanon across borders. We need to reclaim this divided mansion with fire in our hearts - the fire of love, unity, humanity and justice.

Rima Merhi is a family business owner in the trading and manufacturing sector in Lebanon, lecturer in media and communications department at Balamand University and former consultant and human rights research fellow at Harvard University.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Daily Star on November 18, 2019, on page 4.

The views and opinions of authors expressed herein do not necessarily state or reflect those of the Arab Network for the Study of Democracy
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