Lebanon at the cross roads (part one)
“A government of the people, by the people, and for the people.” Extracts of the Gettysburg
address by Abraham Lincoln.
In 1990, after coming out of a civil war that had lasted fifteen years, all the citizens longed for, at
the time, was a halt to the violence and resuming a normal life. But as peace finally took hold
their demands grew. Essentially they pleaded for political stability and security, social justice and
adequate social services for all, a balanced national economic growth, a fair distribution of the
country’s resources, and a sound and effective management of the public finances.
We shall presently examine if these wishes were ultimately realized.
1) Political Stability: No one can deny that political stability, both internal and external, has
been, to say the least, precarious during the past twenty years. Many external factors have
evidently contributed to create instability in the country.
However we believe that the different governments who were in charge during that period should
have worked harder to preserve and foster national harmony without which no country can enjoy
These governments did not seek and encourage the participation of the citizens in the
reconstruction of the country’s institutions. In fact, just the opposite occurred. The citizens were
marginalized, kept out of the public process, and discouraged from getting involved in matters
related to governance. This policy was probably pursued to prevent the citizens from having
access to information that the decision makers misguidedly thought should not be part of the
public domain. Later in this study we shall demonstrate the serious consequences of this short
The chasm created by this exclusion contributed, to a certain extent, to widen the rift among the
different religious communities and between the two main political groups. It negatively impacted
the country’s unity and cohesion and, on several occasions, it even threatened to revive the civil
.2) Social justice: Essential services, like quality education and affordable health and
retirement security were never fully provided to the citizens in the past. Lately, with a creeping
inflation and a high imported cost of living, these facilities have become nearly out of reach for the
low income earners and even for some members of the middle class.
3) Infrastructure: Insignificant amounts have been spent on the national infrastructure during
the past twenty years, leaving it in a state of near disrepair. According to the present Minister of
Economy, no less than twenty billion US dollars will be needed to rebuild or update the water and
the energy supply systems, the roads, the ports, the public transport, the waste collection and
treating systems etc.
4) Economic Growth: During the past years international observers have hailed Lebanon’s
economic growth and the resilience of its financial and monetary systems. One cannot deny that
some sectors of the economy like real estate, construction, insurance, and banking have
witnessed a spectacular boom during that period. This growth however has been accompanied
by a serious fall back in many other sectors, like agriculture, and industry and some stagnation in
domain of telecommunications. Even tourism compares somewhat unfavorably with the
performance of other neighboring countries like Cyprus, Jordan, Egypt, Turkey and Syria. This
has brought many economists to challenge the justification of the high growth development
product rate (GDP) claimed by the authorities.
5) Fair distribution of public revenue: All the above shortcomings coupled with a skewed
financial and fiscal policy, and the absence of an effective management of the country’s public
debt, have contributed to bring about an uneven distribution of the country’s earnings and
resources. A relatively small proportion of the population, the bankers, the real estate investors,
and the large entrepreneurs, are getting substantially richer, while the members of the middle
and the low income class have seen their revenue dwindle substantially.
Emigration has partially compensated for these deficiencies but it has also resulted in a brain
drain of the population that is bound to seriously mortgage the prospects of the country’s future
economic development. Already most of the government ministries in Lebanon suffer from an
acute shortage of young and qualified personnel who are urgently required to implement a
meaningful and badly needed reform within the Public Administration.
6) Management of public funds: For all the above considerations it is fair to assume that the
past management of public funds has been less than satisfactory. We find ourselves, twenty
years later, with a staggering public debt of nearly sixty billion US dollars, a recurring yearly deficit
of four billion US dollars, and nothing much to show for it in terms of security, stability, social
justice, and economic prosperity.
3. LEBANON TODAY IS, ONCE MORE, AT THE CROSS ROADS. WHAT OPTIONS DO WE
to let the citizens participate in their country’s governance.
Ever since we gained our independence, the decision makers in our country kept forgetting that
they owe their authority to the citizens who elected them and that they should always refer to the
people whenever they have to make some important choices that can potentially impact the
present or the future of these citizens.
Unfortunately, as we previously pointed out, our leaders have constantly underestimated the
ability of the citizens to make the right decisions and purposely avoided consulting them. As proof
of this assertion we would like to point out that no popular referendum was ever held in Lebanon,
even at times when the fate of the country was in the balance.
At a time when some hard decisions must be taken, our leaders should imperatively associate
the citizens to the governance of this country and keep them regularly and thoroughly informed of
any new major developments. This democratic process, fully recommended and strongly
supported by the major international institutions, is commonly known as participative governance.
Before we consider how it should operate in practice, I would like to quote Marwan Muasher, a
political analyst and a strong supporter of citizens ‘rights in participation. Here are some extracts
from his article:
The Arab Spring – Eternal season of flux. “On the need to associate the Arab citizens to the
governance process to preserve the gains of the Arab Spring.”
“ But it would be a mistake for governments that now enjoy legitimacy — including Saudi Arabia,
but also Jordan and Morocco — not to use the time they have to undergo serious reform that
leads not just to better economic conditions but to better governance and power sharing.
Despite all the difficulties, it is wrong to assume that this historic moment will die. Too much has
changed, and it’s too late to reverse course. What has been broken is not just the barrier of fear
but, more important, the feeling of powerlessness.
The Arab public, accustomed to being on the receiving end of policies made by its governments
or outside forces, has a new sense of empowerment — the feeling that it can effect change. This
is a new development in the region, and it is there to stay.
But while the street has been successful in starting revolution, it cannot institutionalize change.
Countries need to manage an orderly transition. They need to put forward a serious reform
process rather than ad hoc measures designed to pacify the street.”
As Mr. Muasher so rightly puts it, time is running out in the Middle East. It is also the case for us in
Lebanon if we do not want to witness a repeat of the fifteen years of civil discord and internal
strife that plagued us in the past.
In a subsequent article we shall examine how one can bring the citizens of Lebanon to
participate in their country’s governance and the advantages of this new partnership.
CPI The Lebanese Center for public information
“Inform before you Reform!”
CPI The Lebanese Center for Public Information
with the Ministry of Interior under reference 450 AD
Web site: http://www.cpi-lebanon.org
State and the citizens.
Plan that will be the joint product of the Authorities and the citizens and that
will define their combined national unity of purpose.