Lebanese Foreign Minister Abdallah Bou Habib, en route to the Arab foreign ministers’ meeting in Kuwait, declared: “I am not going there to hand over Hezbollah’s weapons.” If he was going to deliver only flowery language and empty words, far better he never went at all.

Lebanon cannot positively respond to Arab demands to implement UN Security Council Resolution 1559 — which calls for, among other things, the disarming of Hezbollah — because it long-since surrendered its sovereignty, becoming a mere pawn in Iran’s aggressive regional brinkmanship. Lebanon does not possess a government capable of independent decision making. Indeed, last week’s Cabinet meeting after months of Hezbollah-enforced paralysis was being described as if it were a miracle deserving of frenzied national celebration.

Bou Habib cites “civil peace” to justify non-implementation of Resolution 1559 — i.e., if anybody tries to disarm Hezbollah there will be civil war. He is correct: Hassan Nasrallah openly threatens war against those who challenge Hezbollah. Yet war is looming either way, because if Hezbollah consolidates its creeping coup d’état it risks setting in motion an even more devastating regionwide confrontation with Israel. Just visit Beirut and you will discover that the war has long-since begun — a brutal war of attrition and starvation, waged by the state against its citizens, which may ultimately reap a higher death toll than the worst Israel can do.

Let Bou Habib dig deep into the reservoirs of his modest command of the Arabic language to try dazzling his regional counterparts with nonsensical poetry — the stage is set for the deepest of deep freezes in Arab-Lebanon relations, because Lebanon’s leaders through their deliberate actions have imprisoned themselves and their citizens inside a dying entity that no longer even resembles an Arab state.

Announcing the political earthquake of his withdrawal from politics last week, Saad Hariri declared that there were no possible positive outcomes in a reality distinguished by “Iranian influence, international confusion, national divisions, sectarianism and a weak state.” He acknowledged that the public now saw him as just one component of a failed and discredited political class.

Hariri’s despair didn't suddenly manifest itself: In 2019, when I last met him, it was easy to detect the burning frustrations of a man who had tried every trick in the political book to marry his profound belief in Arab nationalism, inherited from his father, with the realities of Lebanese political life dominated by a faction ripping apart the country’s social fabric and sovereignty at the behest of a hostile foreign power.

According to the World Bank, Lebanon’s gross domestic product plummeted from about $52 billion in 2019 to about $22 billion in 2021, the biggest financial crunch worldwide. The only sector that has flourished has been Hezbollah’s stake in the regional narcotics trade. Meanwhile, the relative cost of living has paradoxically soared, making bankrupt Beirut one of the most expensive places to live on the planet — with prices of basic goods often up to 40 percent higher than even New York.

Many of us have long argued that this year’s elections are the best opportunity for voters to punish politicians who have betrayed their nation, but many Lebanese fear what may replace Hariri’s Future Movement. I would like to believe that these seats will be seized by young progressives who represent the values of the 2019 uprising, but these political currents remain embryonic and there is a danger that opportunists could capture the vote. Hezbollah is already scrutinizing which Sunni candidates it may be able to buy off. Bahaa Hariri talks about continuing his father’s journey, but who is Bahaa other than a prestigious surname in a political system overflowing with nonentities, whose sole asset is their status as the corrupt offspring of former warlords and powerbrokers?

President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law Gebran Bassil have spent the past months seeking to delay or cancel the elections, knowing that their fatally discredited Free Patriotic Movement will hemorrhage seats. The absence of a credible representative for Sunni communities may offer them a golden pretext to self-servingly abort the democratic process.

Hariri’s withdrawal hits the ball into the court of Lebanese citizens. Lebanon’s political class are the problem. It isn’t that they don’t possess solutions to Lebanon’s perfect storm of crises, rather that they are actively blocking solutions to protect their interests. Thus, the World Bank in its latest report, “The Great Denial,” refers to a “deliberate depression” inflicted by this kleptocratic political class and a moribund sectarian system.

Citizens must not only demand that elections occur on time, they must also collaborate across confessional and factional divides in support of candidates who represent a clean break from the corrupt status quo. If they fail to do this, it will be Nasrallah and Bassil who seize the initiative by sabotaging the democratic system and filling the vacuum created by Hariri’s disappearance with the worst of the worst.

When starving citizens are enduring a freezing winter with no electricity, no jobs, no hospitals, no opportunities, no anything, it is easy to be apathetic. But it is precisely because of this hellish situation that citizens must punish those responsible and act decisively for radical change. There is no earthly need for Lebanon to be a bankrupt, failed narco state, except that some of its leaders want it to be. I write these words with a heavy heart — but a determination to remain optimistic, for the sake of Lebanon and the endlessly resourceful Lebanese people.

Hariri’s refusal to continue participating in this political farce showed the way forward, not just for Sunnis but for Christians, Shiites, Druze and others: As long as you vote for the same faces, you will always get exactly the same outcomes.

The political earthquake of Hariri’s withdrawal must be followed up with a social tsunami, as citizens comprehensively evict all those who betrayed them, restore their nation’s sovereignty, and reopen its doors to the Arab region and the world. Let’s not just pray for a miracle — let’s force that miracle to occur!

  • Baria Alamuddin is an award-winning journalist and broadcaster in the Middle East and the UK. She is editor of the Media Services Syndicate and has interviewed numerous heads of state.
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