The Lebanese civil war of 1975 to 1990 did more than destroy the country — it made it impossible to put it back together again. Institutions were demolished, corruption was normalized and, most importantly, a generation of militiamen rose to power who cared little about unity.
The founding fathers of Lebanon — those brave men (for they were sadly all men) who formed the country on the basis of independence, tolerance and moderation — were sidelined, never to return.
In their place the very same militiamen who fought each other for over a decade swapped the sword for the suit and learned to call each other statesmen. But clothes do not make the man and the majority of them have not changed one bit. They claim their share of the pie and keep their foreign masters happy but do nothing to help the country develop independently.
Since 2005, Hezbollah has become the latest party to be transformed from militia to pseudo-statesman, with the 2008 Doha Accords effectively offering them a seat at the top table. And in the past year we have seen a new player on the ground — the Salafis and Al-Qaeda affiliates — pushing for influence. They may be easy to dismiss but make no mistake; they are a rising force and are looking for their share. It is clear that any global agreement over Syria, which will impact Lebanon, will include them.
For those moderates that survived the civil war, it has been a cold winter as the rule of the gun has taken hold. We have been isolated and ignored; condemned as traitors for refusing to pledge allegiance to one foreign power or another.
But we may be seeing the first signs of spring. Prominent businessman Farid Chehab and others have launched the Blue Gold project, which aims to claim the country’s vast and deeply politicized water resources for the Lebanese people. In the process they aim to nurture a strong, independent civil society that puts the country first.
Their plans are grand, utopian some might say, and they are certainly flawed. But they are laudable. Civil society has to demand the impossible, if only to force action from the political class.
The rule of the gun never lasts. One day we will get our country back, and when we do we need a strong civil society to help us move forward.