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Iraq and Lebanon protests must not go the Syria way

Hazem Saghieh (Perspective)
Filed on November 25, 2019 | Last updated on November 25, 2019 at 09.31 pm

Corruption, theft, and youth unemployment have cost Iraq's economy some $450 billion since 2003.

Syrian president Bashar Al Assad is today both victorious and defeated. He was defeated by his own forces, but has emerged victorious with the help of foreign forces.

In other words, his authority has lost legitimacy and its ability to survive. The regime has found strength through Iran and Russia to quell opposition at home.

Such play of power hasn't influenced other parts of the region as yet. But it could, if the revolts in Lebanon, Iraq, and Iran are defeated. Assad-like victory could become a symbol and inspiration of the current phase.

In Lebanon, it has become evident that the system of sectarianism and clientelism are on the verge of collapse, or at least is unable to continue without presenting serious concessions in the economy, laws, and principles. The government has resigned. Two parliament sessions were aborted. The offers of the president and government have been repeatedly rejected. The attempt to appoint Mohammad Safadi as premier was born dead. Syndicates have started to champion the revolt. Banks have become targets of the protesters, who view them as crooks and thieves. The army is no longer completely in tune with the political authority. The resistance of Hezbollah doesn't matter. The group no longer is the key to the fate of the nation and its future.

Sectarianism has been challenged and this can no longer be ignored. The current economic system needs a radical change. And in such a scenario, any attempt to restore the former Lebanon is doomed to fail.

Protests in Iraq, a country with massive wealth, seem to dwarf Lebanon's by a thousandfold. Corruption, theft, and youth unemployment have cost Iraq's economy some $450 billion since 2003. The affiliation to Iran has played a central role in this deterioration. This is summed up by my colleague Qassem Al Basri's statements to Al Joumhouria website: "Iraq today is the primary market for Iranian products and goods, specifically the poor and cheap kind, at the expense of local Iraqi production that could never compete with the Iranian one. This has led to the closure of 4,000 factories and to 50,000 Iraqis losing their jobs." Leaked documents revealed by The New York Times have also revealed the extent to which Iran controls Iraq's politicians and just how much clout Qasem Soleimani has over them.

This reality is teetering and its representatives, specifically the prime minister, are clinging on to power and giving themselves 45 days to come up with miracles. The regime, meanwhile, isn't restricting itself to the use of tear gas and continues to kill them with weapons. Their death is key to its survival.

In Iran, people revolted in 2009 and 2017, and rose up again only days ago. Supreme leader Ali Khamenei blamed the protests on the enemies of the revolution and cut the internet across the country, plunging it in darkness and silence.Ali Fathollah Nejad of the Brookings institute acknowledged that during the regime's 40 years in power, it succeeded in improving infrastructure and basic services in the countryside against the Shah's policies. Electricity, drinking water, health and education services outside of major cities helped lessen poverty. This does not, however, negate official figures that reveal that 12 million people live in complete poverty. Some 25 to 30 million live in poverty, 14 per cent of the population lives in tents and a third of city residents live in shantytowns.

American sanctions definitely played a role in tightening the noose around the regime, even though Iranian economist Hossein Raghfar Qadr claimed last year that their impact was limited to 15 per cent of the economy. The rest of the economy was impacted by accumulating neoliberal policies and massive corruption. Unemployment is a major problem in Iran as some 25 to 40 per cent of graduates do not have a job.

The system is, therefore, not okay. Its survival calls for drawing inspiration from North Korea's rotten example and for upping the slogans of perseverance and resistance. Its survival calls for elevating Bashar Al Assad to the status of inspiring historical leader!

-Asharq Al Awsat


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