For Middle East watchers, 2013 was a schizophrenic year politically. As the months went by, all the supposed truths about the region after the ‘Arab Spring’ uprisings were contradicted, leaving us deeply confused.
Back in January, there was a democratically elected Muslim Brotherhood government in Egypt, Israel was pushing for an attack on Iran and commentators were still betting on the fall of Bashar al-Assad in Syria. Eleven months later and the military have returned to power in Egypt, Salafists and fundamentalists are growing across the region, Assad looks undefeatable and Iran’s new president is exchanging hugs with Western leaders. In the midst of all this, Lebanon has ground to a depressingly familiar halt. What can we make of it all?
Chaos, clearly, but if there is a lesson to be drawn from the year it is that those, like myself, who believe in liberalism and focusing on economic development have been increasingly sidelined.
The ideals of the Arab uprisings have given way to the return of backroom deals and the principle that might makes right. Those with the guns rule and human rights mean little — we have learned the hard way that the people still don’t have much of a say.
So as we look forward to 2014, perhaps the most depressing lesson for the people of the Arab world is to ignore their politicians. Until geostrategic deals are made and global alliances settle, those in Washington, Moscow, Beijing and elsewhere care little about economic growth. In the face of such insecurity, the only way forward is on your own.
The Lebanese realized this long ago and have given up hope in their inept, corrupt political class. Instead they have gone it alone and faced with seemingly insurmountable challenges time and again they have clutched success out of the jaws of defeat.
This is evident in the few areas of resilience in the economy — banks continue to grow, exports remain stable and exciting new entrepreneurs are emerging. Those that predicted doomsday for Lebanon in 2013 have been proved wrong, and there is little reason to expect a full collapse next year.
Obviously, we wish the circumstances were better — that there was political stability that could lead to another boom. But it was ever thus in this country, and increasingly this region. Stability will remain elusive and the search for opportunities will be more challenging, but we will persevere and succeed. Here’s to 2014.