Lebanon is a country of opposing forces, and those rare times when it has enjoyed stability and prospered have come when these forces have been balanced. Achieving this is far from a simple process — aggregate the shifting geopolitical realities of our neighborhood, the foreign influences at play in the country and the plethora of domestic political interests and sectarian affiliations, and you may understand the task at hand.
Najib Mikati sought this balance. In upholding such things as the funding for the United Nations Special Tribunal for Lebanon, he defended priorities of the March 14 political bloc in a cabinet of March 8 ministers. When the Cabinet refused to renew the term of Internal Security Forces chief Ashraf Rifi, however, Mikati’s position as prime minister did not offer him the tools he needed to keep this equilibrium; thus, he resigned.
The government failed to successfully reform virtually any aspect of public infrastructure whether it be electricity, water or telecommunications. Any gains were piecemeal. What is more, the tricky, but absolutely essential, task of administrative reform was sidestepped. The debate over the public sector wage scale offered an opportunity to take the bull by the horns. It was missed.
This government had its chance to show its commitment to Lebanon’s prosperity. The implementation of a properly functioning public transportation system would, for example, benefit everyone by cutting commute times, easing pollution and frustration levels, as well as increasing the productivity of working Lebanese.
What did the government do instead? Minister of Public Works and Transportation Ghazi Aridi announced the purchase of 250 buses, but without a plan that addresses any of the litany of challenges the caused previous efforts at mass transit to become costly failures, while also shrouding aspects of the deal in obscurity, raising the specter of corruption and kickbacks.
Imagine if the state were not such an impediment to its own people, how might the Lebanese succeed? One need only look to New York. The city maintains the necessary equilibrium between competing interests and creates systems that foster success and efficiency. It is an example of how Lebanon’s sons and daughters can thrive when placed in an environment that allows them to do so.
The good news is that, despite the odds, Lebanon still miraculously produces these people of talent, punching well above its weight in the birth of potential. One can only hope that one day, the full potential of these Lebanese can be realized at home.