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Lebanon's Spring is not far away

Christiane Waked
Filed on November 20, 2019 | Last updated on November 20, 2019 at 07.41 pm

People are demanding immediate action and reforms. And the pressure is working, to say the least.

Lebanon has been on a boil for more than a month. Frustrated with the daily struggles and rampant corruption, all that people needed was a spark to break their silence and protest against the government. That spark was provided on October 17 when the government proposed yet another tax.

A month later, a small-scale street riot has turned into a very large movement that is uniting the Lebanese of all denominations, religious origins, and social classes against the corrupt and incompetent politicians. It is for the first time since the end of the civil war in 1990 that a majority of Lebanese have joined hands to call for a change.

Lebanon's abysmal raking on the Transparency International's index says it all. The country ranks 138th out of 180 countries in terms of the most corrupt nations globally.

So far, the revolution has brought down the government. It has also built pressure on the officials to bring further change to the governance model to encourage more accountability and transparency.

People are demanding immediate action and reforms. And the pressure is working, to say the least. The Information Office of the Lebanese Presidency recently said: "Within the framework of the anti-corruption follow up, requested by the Lebanese President, Michel Aoun, 18 corruption dossiers have been collated and the investigation will include financial crimes, waste, forgery, money laundering, work negligence, promotion of counterfeit medicines, and suspicious contracts, etc."

It is certainly a big development, but the announcement alone won't assuage the fears and apprehensions of the people. The government should follow up this statement with the creation of a central audit unit and an Inspection Bureau to ensure work is done as suggested. There must be complete transparency in terms of investigation and information should be regularly shared with the Lebanese.

The recent victory of lawyer Melhem Khalaf lends some confidence that things can improve. Khalaf is a civil society member and a social activist, who will be heading the Beirut Bar Association. It is for the first time an independent candidate with no political affiliations has won the seat. Khalaf's win reassures the protestors that the judicial system can do its job. So there is still hope. It is true that Lebanon has amassed a lot of debt ($86.57 billion), and has become the world's third most indebted country but that does not necessarily predict a complete collapse.

The Lebanese are known for their resilience, and this trait would surely help them emerge stronger from the current crisis. Today, the government can ask local banks for a grace period on its local debts as it did in 2002. Formation of a new government is likely to have a positive impact on the economy. For starters, the government could take notes from the white paper of the global consulting firm McKinsey & Co which had proposed a wide vision for the Lebanese economy. It has suggestions on how the country can become a hub for wealth-management and investment banking.

Bottom line is, concessions must be made quickly and all Lebanese must act wisely and rationally to find solutions that put the interests of the country before anything.

If there is one thing that the Lebanese must learn from the Arab Spring, it is that everyone must work together to save not only the economy but the country from a new civil war.

Christiane Waked is a political analyst based in Beirut


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