While 2016 was full of surprises, in our own backyard the year’s developments simply helped reconfirm what we already know and once again exposed the extent of our vulnerability and dependence. Our region’s fate is in the hands of superpowers, influenced by any number of special interests except, of course, the best interest of local populations. The year proved human life has no value to those who will decide our fate. It proved our lot is not to make decisions, rather to wait until decisions are made for us.
In Lebanon, the effects of this are becoming embarrassing. We have a president now, but it seems that we are still destined to wait for international deals to be struck that will help define our future. In the meantime, gross mismanagement in the public sector deprives us of even the most basic services (electricity, water, garbage collection and disposal). The only functioning institution in this country is Banque du Liban (BDL), the central bank. We cannot prove that the BDL stimulus package contributed to half or more of our GDP growth in each of the past three years, but it’s hard to think of a positive development in Lebanon since 2010 that does not have BDL to thank. Subsidized environmental loans are building a renewable energy industry, subsidized housing loans and other assistance are propping up the real estate sector and guaranteed investments are giving a turbo-charged boost to an entrepreneurship ecosystem, building on over a decade of organic growth. Imagine if our ministries were all as well managed. Imagine the cumulative effect if each minister could say he or she helped contribute half a percentage point to growth in 2016. The more I think about this country, the more I’m convinced that economic independence is a prerequisite for political independence, both locally and internationally.
Individual Lebanese are often as dependent on their local political bosses as those bosses are dependent on their foreign sponsors. If we can’t break the links at the top of the chain, our only hope is to break them at the bottom. It seems clear that spring will bring with it parliamentary elections, albeit with an unfair law. This is not ideal, but it still provides at least an opportunity for liberal-minded candidates with a real vision for this country’s future to succeed.
My hope for 2017 is that at least a few of these candidates can contaminate our corrupt, rotten parliament with new blood and new ideas. We are encouraged by foreign voices, who all expressed their trust in Lebanon on this issue. I hope for members of parliament to be guided by their conscience and love of country, not blinded by political allegiance. I hope for representatives who will alleviate the people’s suffering and mitigate the effects of mismanagement that have been holding Lebanon back for too long. We have to break the chain. In 2017, we start.