Lebanon is presented with the most serious challenges it has faced in the past decade. The economy is struggling, the internal security situation deteriorating and the country’s neighbors pose real threats. But amidst everything, there are opportunities — not just in newfound offshore oil and gas but also within the country's ingenious population.
As we head into 2013, what can be done to help the country unite, to overcome its challenges and ultimately to grow? Over the course of this week, eight influential figures will address seven important topics, each suggesting one proposal to help the country move forward.
Today, two leading writers with diametrically opposed views suggest ways to improve Lebanon’s security. Here Saleh El-Machnouk calls for disarming Hezbollah, while Hicham Safieddine calls for a security pact to prevent the Syria spillover.
Of all the problems we suffer from in Lebanon today, one is not only at the root of most of our other problems, but also stands in the way of our ability to move forward and help resolve the major socio-economic difficulties with which we struggle every day. That problem is Hezbollah’s arsenal of weapons. From allegedly assassinating former premier Rafik al-Hariri, to militarily invading west Beirut, and later enforcing the overthrow of the ‘national unity’ government; these weapons have turned into Lebanon’s cancerous disease, spreading fast and ensuring that no part of our nation remains unharmed.
We cannot survive as a country unless this problem is resolved. And any attempt to resolve other pending issues is hardly fruitful as long as our sovereignty is violated, our security threatened, our stability endangered, and our democratic system in shatters. I am fully aware that a solid majority of our educated elite has grown allergic to repeated, yet unfulfilled, calls by politicians for disarming illegal militias, especially given the endless disappointments caused by the March 14 coalition's retractions and deal-makings over the past several years.
As a young Lebanese citizen, I would have much preferred to speak of improvements such as rethinking our constitution, rewriting our electoral laws, developing our tourism industry, and growing our economy. But what purpose would that accomplish given that our constitution is disregarded, the identity of who wins the elections is rendered insignificant, one bomb could nullify years of effort in our tourist sector, and no Lebanese or foreign entity is willing to seriously consider investing significant sums of money in a country governed by little more than the laws of nature.
We now live in a quasi-failed state. Hezbollah’s weapons have given rise to an unbelievable degree of lawlessness. Tribal militias kidnap foreigners and appear live in a press conference on national television to discuss the terms of negotiations, and fundamentalist religious groups are on their way to building military capacities in order to balance those of Hezbollah. If we do not solve this problem through a firm willingness to consolidate and strengthen the state’s authority in 2013, we very likely might find ourselves once again engulfed in civil war, as the breakdown of the state reaches its final stages.
Disarming Hezbollah, however, is not all talk. We need a plan, and as the Arab Spring continues to unfold and the murderous Syrian dictator approaches his inevitable downfall, it is time to develop a concrete strategy to put an end to the predicament hindering our national progress. What I suggest here is a four-point plan to move forward on the disarmament of Hezbollah and the restoration of state authority in 2013.
Reform March 14: There is very little chance that we can make progress on any vital national issues if the political movement which once embodied the dreams of most Lebanese in a sovereign state remains the way it is today. The movement has lost its soul, its independents, its credibility and its ability to inspire and lead. Its leadership should clearly acknowledge that it has been on a disastrous path for five years now, and that it is time for real change. It must also recognize that confronting Hezbollah requires sacrifices and that the approach prioritizing short-term artificial stability and unity has failed miserably.
Stop undermining liberal Shias: The fact that Hezbollah and Amal terrorize their political opponents notwithstanding, the March 14 coalition has since 2005 greatly undermined the power and influence of what was then a sizeable Shia minority of dissidents. It did so because it foolishly believed (and still does) that Speaker of Parliament Nabih Berri is its real ally in eventually defeating Hezbollah. This behavior has not only been immoral, it has transformed the battle into a largely Sunni-Shia confrontation whereas it really is one between state sovereignty and militias. Without the support of an empowered Shia coalition of allies, the battle against Hezbollah will continue to be framed as a sectarian conflict, and is doomed to fail.
Strengthen the Lebanese Army and believe in it: It is important to come to the realization that Hezbollah’s weapons are first and foremost a military problem, and that although political efforts are necessary, it is simplistic to assume that we can solve this problem without a considerable role for the Lebanese Army in an eventual confrontation. The army, however, needs to be supported and equipped in kind, and also needs to have confident and able political leadership guiding its missions.
Win the elections and form a pro-sovereignty government: March 14 can very well win the upcoming elections, and with a solid majority. But in order to do that it must make a clear, irrevocable pledge to its people that this time things are going to be different. Nabih Berri will not be elected as speaker, a March 14 government will be formed, and this government will move forward in dealing with illegitimate militias. And as it wins the elections, it should form a government that will unmistakably delegitimize Hezbollah’s weapons in its ministerial statement, courageously order the army to use force if necessary to disallow the carrying or transport of any weaponry on Lebanese territory, and unambiguously order the armed forces arrest the assassins of former Premier Hariri no matter the costs. While complete disarmament might not be feasible at first, containment is definitely the right step in the right direction.
We had big dreams in 2005. Seven years later, we find ourselves struggling in a country where there is no hope for young men and women to have a better future. 2013 is a defining year. The entire region is changing, and we have reached a crossroads where we need to make difficult decisions about our future. We have an abundance of problems in our country we need to work on — from health care to education and jobs — but if we don’t restore state authority and legitimize the rule of law this coming year, there might not be much of Lebanon left for us to fix.
Saleh El Machnouk is a Lebanese activist and a former lecturer in politics at the Lebanese American University. He is currently pursuing his graduate studies at Harvard University.
The opinions expressed in this article are the views of the author and not of Executive Magazine
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