Driving around Beirut last month, older Lebanese could have been forgiven for feeling a little nostalgic. Across the city, hundreds of cheaply produced posters of former President Fouad Chehab appeared, each encouraging him to return to the top job this month.
This seems unlikely, since Chehab died in 1973, but it is worth remembering a time when Lebanon’s politicians were made of sterner stuff. Throughout his period in government, Chehab succeeded in growing the country by reaching out to the best-educated Lebanese across the world. They brought their skills home and joined the public administration as part of a great nation-building exercise. At that time, working for the country’s state universities, civil service and other areas was something to be proud of, and it paid people appropriately.
In the mid-1980s, all that changed. A decade into the civil war, the Lebanese lira collapsed. As the violence became more vicious and random, all those with talent and brains left. The warlords were left to pick apart the carcass of what was once Lebanon.
Today these men may have swapped the Kalashnikov for the suit and tie, but they cannot command our respect. Unqualified to do anything except fight, they have failed miserably to build either a nation or an economy. And in the wider world they cannot command the respect of international leaders — no one wants to shake a hand with blood on it.
Yet these same warlords control our future and they are trying to pick our next president, due to be confirmed by May 25. Walid Joumblatt, Samir Geagea, Michel Aoun, Nabih Berri and all the rest are debating who gets to run our country in smoke-filled rooms, but no one thinks to ask the people.
So we did. In our in-depth survey it is clear that the nation wants an independent president who was not involved in the dark years of Lebanon. They want a strong candidate with a track record in defending, protecting and advancing the country. They want someone who can help the country get out of the vicious cycle these assassins have created.
The number of realistic candidates is few — but both former minister Ziyad Baroud and central bank chief Riad Salameh are great contenders. Both men have have sought to put the nation back together in a way so few have. For more on why we eventually backed Salameh, see “The right choice for president.”
The people have spoken, and they don’t want the status quo to continue. We must now fight to make the warlords listen.