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Actions matter

by Thomas Schellen

The dispatch from the general assembly of the United Nations (UN) was official. The officially hyphenated Secretary-General Antonio Guterres met with Mohammad Najib Azmi Mikati, President of the Council of Ministers of the Republic of Lebanon: “They discussed the situation in Lebanon, with the Secretary-General emphasizing the continued commitment of the United Nations to support the Lebanese people.”

Why would it matter if the top representative of the world’s top transnational body talks about the problems of a failed state with the nominal caretaker head of that state’s cabinet?  Why would the people of Lebanon care if the UN praise the Lebanese people for their outstanding generosity in welcoming refugees ten years ago? Why would it help that the UNIFIL mandate is still around at a time when order and security disintegrate alongside the destruction of the economic and social fabric? 

Some, usually from the safety of academic research labs and think tanks in developed countries, say that a failed state is either a state whose government has lost its legitimacy, is no longer in control of the territory, and can no longer deliver basic services. 

And so, when did Lebanon become one? Was it back in the 1990s, when one militia was not disarmed? Was it back in the 2000s, when governmental positions were determined in foreign capital cities as Lebanon was shaken by serial political assassinations? Was it in the 2010s, when the legitimacy of highest elected bodies was hollowed out? Was it when basic services failed during the garbage, electricity, water crises, and the multiple crises from 2020 onward? Was it in 2021, when the poverty rate shot up as the currency lost so much value? Or was it in recent weeks, when the state still did not deliver any progress on any reforms? 

From within Lebanon today, my diagnosis of a failed state would be of a state that cannot protect its citizens from violence and cannot protect its economy from those, who with impunity, take what they have no right to claim. The responsibility to wield the monopoly of violence comes with the dual obligation to protect the integrity of the state, while standing up for those who are too weak to ascertain their own rights. Yet, this coercive authority of the state must never succumb to the interests of either the oligarchs or the self-appointed liberators of the people’s cash. 

It does not concern me that the international jargon of sociological correctness talks no longer about failed, but about fragile states. It does not matter to me that politicians on the global stage utter polite words at the UN General Assembly. What matters to me, is that Lebanon is a state deeply in need of determined actions that do not harm those on whose behalf we claim to act; whether as activists, journalists, academics, or elected representatives and appointed authorities. Everywhere. 

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Thomas Schellen

Thomas Schellen is Executive's editor-at-large. He has been reporting on Middle Eastern business and economy for over 20 years. Send mail

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