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Let number 5 be alive

Integrating Lebanese productive industries in the ranks of economic reform

by Thomas Schellen

Published in its fifth draft iteration, this year’s Economic Roadmap is coupled with an important addition of a fifth pillar, enable. It adds seven industry-specific agenda priorities to our menu of measures that we propose to aspiring change leaders and decision makers. These new agenda priorities and related proposals specifically target the enablement and self-enablement of leading productive industries in Lebanon, namely manufacturing, agro-industry, media and content creation, hospitality, knowledge enterprises, organic beauty, and renewable energy. 

Other changes in Roadmap draft 5.0 can be found in revised introductions to the 19 agenda priorities and their detailed policy priorities and proposals. Sadly, only updates, in the rarest cases, mean that proposed measures under a policy priority have been achieved – updates of proposed measures mostly reflecting unfortunate changes in context of the economic crisis rendering actions unachievable or theoretical for the foreseeable future. 

Last but not least, innovations of the Roadmap involve the addition of almost 90 content links within this online edition. These links connect you to Executive’s stories of the past six years analyzing and elaborating agenda priorities listed under pillars one to four, as they retain their titles of build & reform, strategize, combat, and develop.


At the time when the magazine was systematizing its internal Executive Roadmap project discussions – with first informal inputs to the roadmap dating back to the idyllic 2000s – reformist Lebanese minds, including Executive as publication in advocacy of a better economy, were committing themselves to the run-up period to the 2018 parliamentary elections.

As Lebanon’s change advocates were energized by the 2016 municipal elections, many of them looked to the long delayed parliamentary elections for fresh representation that would lead a tidal of wave of change. One that would challenge the status quo, witness the rise of women within the political spectrum, and see many more overdue to changes. 

In just one example for the desires tied to the 2018 elections, we titled our November 2017 issue “Reformist Mutation,” with the message that the country was experiencing the gestation of a future governed by this new DNA. In parallel, we noted in that issue’s leader and overview story that the anti-establishment political groupings and individuals must get their act together, while asking whether the new will be “fundamentally different and better, or just as vain as the old.” 

Alas, the 2018 elections did not result in even as much as 10 or 20 percent infusion of reformist DNA into the political aisle. The question hovering over the constructive impact of new reformist voices on the Lebanese Parliament remains levitating, and begs for another answer in this year’s electoral showdown. But notwithstanding the unlikely occurrence that a reform-minded Parliament would be empowered this spring, the Executive Economic Roadmap has from its inception been and continues to be based on consultative principles and processes. Among our aspirations – then and now – is that elected servants of the people would consider Executive’s Roadmap a useful tool for economic policy making and consult it as a platform for dialog with their well-informed constituents 


 As elections are, yet again, on the political horizon, it is necessary to not only acknowledge how desperate the economic reality has become, but also how political processes have shifted to the worse. From a partisan and self-serving sectarian model of horse trading driven by joint, albeit minimal, mutual interests to seek partisan benefits at the lowest cost to themselves and their fiefdoms, the political sphere seems to have “advanced” to a basket case setting of mutually assured destruction of public interests and clinical paralysis where absolutely nothing strategic and long-term gets done. 

In this dark reality, one cannot but note that reform demands have been thrown at the Lebanese Republic in a growing barrage. Universal opposition to the government’s economic behaviors – with its two defining components of inactivity and corruption – has been stated on the Lebanese street in the 2019 protests as well as the garbage protests before it. Lebanese economists have frequently voiced scathing criticism of monetary policies over the course of the past 25 years. A few voices from the Lebanese business realm, enlightened academics, and responsible media have even tried to provide constructive criticism. 

Embarrassingly, even global institutions, supranational alliances, and donor governments have, for over a year, showered the government of Lebanon with increasingly harsh rebukes and reform demands. At time of writing, the World Bank’s labeling of Lebanon’s economic crisis as “deliberate depression” evoked the image of a new superlative for recession. Being designated ground zero for an entire new category of sponsored disaster economics – is this the unique Lebanese contribution to the history of economics? 


Lebanon has witnessed all that protest, all those admonitions, but to what avail? One small answer to this question can be derived, depressingly, from a glance over the 2021 Corruption Perception Index (CPI). Within the global criticism and local outcries of distrust of the status quo in Lebanon, the fight against corruption has been an important and vigorously pursued part. (For evidence, see pillar 3, Agenda Priority 13 of the Executive Economic Roadmap.) 

But the 2021 CPI edition, released by Transparency International on January 25th, shows Lebanon having taken another small notch of deterioration in trust last year, from 25 to 24 points, further entrenching the country’s perception as being among not the worst but the almost-as-bad cultures of corruption in the 180 countries listed. What matters here, from this magazine’s perspective, is not so much the drop by one point – out of a theoretical maximum of 100 – or the rank on the CPI list but the fact that all efforts of combating corruption, including our own, have failed to instigate an improving picture of corruption resistance.

In the most recent iteration of a seemingly political process, the draft for the 2022 Budget law has shown how the latest cabinet’s top ambition appears to combine increasing the output of hot air with deflection of reforms. The budget process signals an unhappy continuation to cabinet draft laws of the past few years that yielded nothing but ad-hoc inadequacies, focusing on escaping from structural changes in public finance and the public sector overall. 

The political discourse of the young year fits in unfortunate perfection to what the World Bank’s Saroj Kumar Jha called the “deliberate denial during deliberate depression” when presenting the Fall 2021 Lebanon Economic Monitor on January 25. 


But against all economic reason and evidence, Executive has internalized its informal motto to embrace the absurd. This magazine insists to prod on – bloodied but unbowed, as we titled our summer 2021 issue – in advocating for Lebanon’s better potentials. The Executive Roadmap is one of our tools by which we seek to rally you behind the peaceful flag of win-win-win for the Lebanese economy, society, and public interests. 

For this reason, after having had to witness the continued absence of macroeconomic and political will to reform among public sector stakeholders, Executive was more than ready to embrace the idea of zooming our analytical focus, conferencing, and communication skills onto potentials of industries to realize a better economy. 

Last year, we thus eagerly partnered with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) to discuss an economic framework for job creation and growth in five productive industries. The outcome of this project – with addition of two more industries – is what we present to you as pillar 5 in Roadmap Draft 5.0, with the humble and eager request to invest your minds into discussing and improving it together with us. 

Because, in deliberately and determinedly denying deliberate depression, we can, together, build a new economic democracy for this country.

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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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