When I was a kid, around five or six years old, I had two neighbors, Dalal and Claude. I was fascinated by them; I wanted to be like them. They were maybe 16 or 17 years old, and what they did in 1975 was grab white flags and head to Downtown Beirut to chase the militiamen there up and down Banks Street.
These militiamen were not there for the people, they were there stealing for themselves, their warlords, or for the international mafia. They claimed to be leftist but the truth is that they were just interested in Lebanon’s coffers. Never forget that one of the biggest bank heists in the world took place in Beirut in 1976, when a group of armed men broke through the wall of the British Bank of the Middle East from an adjoining Catholic church and stole up to $50 million in gold, cash, and jewels.
Those I admired as a child both went into journalism. Dalal Saoud is still working today, and is one of the best journalists Lebanon has ever produced. Claude Salhani became a photojournalist, winning awards as a war photographer for his images of the 1982 Israeli invasion.
Around the time they were both bearing their white flags, there was a Spinneys in Ramlet el-Baida, this beautiful, huge, glass, modernist building where you could walk in and find anything you’d be able to get on the streets of London, Paris, or Geneva. For a kid my age, it was a wonder to behold, and I would love my visits there with my mom. One day, when we arrived at the Spinneys we saw it had been raided. The images I saw that day I have never been able to get out of my head—I have shared them here with our readers before. Poor Lebanese, in their hunger and desperation, eating tins of cat and dog food that they had taken out of the store. Behind them were the militiamen in their bosses’ fancy cars, stocked up on all the stolen luxury goods, imported meats, alcohols and the like.
Somehow these warlords—now our politicians—have managed to manipulate the vulnerable, convincing them that the middle classes’ lifestyles are at their expense when the reality is that the “Zaims” are the ones responsible for their misery. The social divide was caused by our government’s failure to anchor its plans in sound economic principles and develop other core industries that create prosperity.
Let’s not forget that Lebanon is one of, if not the only, country in the world whose constitution was drafted by a banker. Banking is embedded in our DNA. What Lebanon needs is visionary leaders that can capitalize, preserve, and grow an industry that was able to attract $170 billion in deposits while complying with international best regulations—and who can learn from its success to vitalize other sectors needed to ensure prosperity.
Our biggest failure has been our inability to understand the concept of economic sovereignty and how only those nations who are truly sovereign can protect themselves. History is sadly repeating itself.
For someone in my generation, what is happening now is what happened then, the attacks on the banks, the attacks on private enterprise, the attack on our sovereignty, the same manipulation, the same spite, bloodthirst, and greed. Who wants to steal our money? We know.
To all those, of whatever creed, who wish to impose their will on Lebanon and stifle the diversity that is integral to our lives, we say this: No matter the darkness in your souls, freedom always prevails.