Public feuding harms Lebanon’s growth

Published: 21 July 2010
Public feuding harms Lebanon’s growth
Lebanon government

I never cease to be amazed at the ability of the Lebanese to bounce back swiftly from crises that would hamper the progress of most other countries for decades. Civil war, invasions, conflicts and political in-fighting have blighted the country for decades and although #Lebanon has paid a terrible toll in human life and infrastructure, the people’s spirit remains indestructible.

In theory, this relatively small mountainous country, hugging the Mediterranean, should be the envy of all. Blessed with a diverse and spectacularly beautiful landscape and an educated, entrepreneurial people who live life to the full, #Lebanon’s potential to be the most admired country in the Middle East in terms of lifestyle is boundless. But, sadly, there are certain factors that hamper the realisation of that God-given potential.

My deep and abiding affection for #Lebanon is well-known. Almost from the moment I first stepped on Lebanese soil during the 1970’s, I felt a special connection with its warm and hospitable sons and daughters who have contributed so much to civilization and proved their solidarity with the struggles of their Arab brethren time and again. Nowadays, when my airplane touches down at Rafic Hariri International Airport I experience a sense of ‘coming home’ just as I do each time I return to my homeland the United Arab Emirates.

It was my belief in this wonderful country that fuelled my desire to invest heavily in its future rather than projected profit margins. I may be a businessman but this doesn’t mean that I’m not sometimes led by emotion. And so, as someone who genuinely loves #Lebanon, I consider it my duty as a friend to point out the flaws that stand in the path of its true destiny.

Firstly, #Lebanon’s system of government known as ‘confessionalism’, meant to distribute political power proportionately between religious communities, needs to be overhauled. Far from bringing diverse groups together under one flag it perpetuates sectarianism and often blocks the most suitable candidate from securing high office. The Lebanese are a proudly patriotic people but a system that serves to unite them under various banners of religious belief dilutes not only national unity but also purist democratic principles.

Secondly, as a small country with a population of little more than four million, #Lebanon should adopt a policy of neutrality similar to that of Switzerland, which remained intact even as two world wars raged. The Lebanese have sacrificed too much already. It’s high time that other nations stopped turning their soil into killing fields on which to wage proxy wars that devastate the Lebanese people leaving their own nationals virtually immune from negative consequences.

Thirdly, all Lebanese politicians, without exception, must put their country’s interests first without reference to competing foreign powers that should have no say in the country’s internal or external policies. As long as ministers and politicians allow themselves to be guided by outside influences, #Lebanon will remain vulnerable to decisions taken in faraway capitals.

Fourth, while it’s natural for politicians to hold differences of opinions – this happens everywhere in the world - in #Lebanon such differences become the subject of hostile argument rather than meaningful debate. Such aggressive exchanges are often televised when political proponents launch personal attacks on one another and feel free to use crude language. Heated disputes like these destroy the credibility of those involved and should be held behind closed doors or during closed parliamentary sessions.

I can’t understand why Lebanese politicians are unable to resist the urge to publicly broadcast their opinions; no matter that those views could be detrimental to the country’s security or economy. It intrigues me, too, just how many ‘experts’ there are who are invariably rolled out on TV to opine on events like the recent crash of an Ethiopian Airlines airplane when they have no technical expertise whatsoever.

The Lebanese media happily give a platform to know-nothing charlatans and politicians out to gain prominence by fuelling incitement. Free speech is one thing but commentators who wilfully ruin the country with damaging predictions about a possible upcoming war, based on rumour, should be kept on a tight leash. If the media cannot or will not behave responsibly then the government should step-in.

Confidence and stability are the commodities that #Lebanon must nurture to attract foreign investment and tourists that are so essential to its economy. Their lack has resulted in half-empty hotels this summer. Yes, Lebanese nationals are flocking-in from overseas, which is great, but where are the big-spending tourists and visitors from the Arab countries and all over the world? Where are the foreign investors with ideas for new projects or an interest in investment opportunities and acquiring property?

Sad to say, the Lebanese are their own worst enemy. #Lebanon is like ’a camel abandoned with its rein still on its back’, to use an Arabic expression. It’s up to the government to monitor and, when necessary, exercise control over harmful elements.

#Lebanon could be and should be ‘heaven on earth’. I wish with all my heart that the Lebanese government would unite to join hands with the people with the common purpose to make it so.

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