At a meeting that I attended with a number of international directors who work for a leading global business enterprise we realized that the corporation deals with large numbers of business partners of Lebanese descent who live in the Americas, Europe, the Middle East and Africa. Lebanese immigrants are widespread across all continents and a significant number of them has had very successful careers heading large corporations – and even as Heads of State.
Many international enterprises and foreign nations have offered Lebanese citizens real opportunities for success and prosperity that they have managed to make the most of, opportunities that their loving homeland declines to offer. Nevertheless, Lebanon still possesses many talented citizens who prefer to stay home and make the best out of it. Lebanon has gone through intensive civil war and has been militarily abused by neighboring nations. As a result, four and half million Lebanese live in their country and roughly fourteen million are living abroad.
Lebanon’s dilemma lies in its inability to exploit Lebanese talents, both within its borders and abroad, to build their country. Lebanon possesses all the necessary ingredients to be a developed nation; its citizens are quite proficient, it has considerable natural resources and a large portion of the population is quite wealthy. The nation could easily attract substantial foreign investments to better develop its tourism industry facilities and thus receive more tourists.
Integrating these factors together will certainly transform the nation. However, the country lacks both the political will and the leadership capable of accomplishing this mission. Lebanese politicians are quite open to listening to advice proffered by international economic institutes that could help move their country forward, but achieving consensus among these politicians on any given economic scheme is beyond a “mission impossible”. Thus, numerous ideas land in and leave the nation, without being subjected to any kind of serious consideration.
Lebanon’s current rhetoric is the setting up of a new cabinet in which each political force is demanding a given number of ministerial seats (the combination of their demands far exceeds the existing number of ministerial positions). Observing the Lebanese media during a recent visit to Beirut made me feel that Lebanon, along with its citizens, should be grateful to its political forces for establishing a government – an approach to political accountability that is the reverse of that in many democratic nations.
Meanwhile, all Lebanese citizens agree that a number of foreign nations are influencing the forming of their government. Regardless of the factual weight of this belief, foreign nations certainly don’t micro-governor Lebanese politics; the responsibility for investment expansion and attracting tourists falls to the coalition government that will hopefully be formed soon. Nonetheless, apart from the disputable foreign factor, Lebanese citizens, who tend to be individualistically driven, may be the real obstacle to the solution of their challenges.
Apparently, all Lebanese citizens, regardless of their political ideology or ethnicity, admire Prime Minister Rafik Hariri (assassinated), who exerted genuine efforts to reconstruct the country and managed to move the nation forward based on a clear political stance and consensuses among all political parties – a proposition that Lebanon lacks presently. Hariri’s footprints are easily identifiable in numerous Beirut venues.
Airports often provide me with the final impression on how nations are governed. After standing over an hour in the passport control queue (which could have easily been avoided by appointing additional passport control officers), I was astonished to find that the VIP lounge at the Beirut airport was unnecessarily spacious, with plenty of unused space. To me, this signaled that the government is not eager to ease tourists’ experience by reducing queue time, but it is keen to offer an extra comfortable lounge to elite travelers.
Lebanon needs to move from its current static politics towards a more dynamic model! The most urgent political step is to establish a functioning government in which competence – not adherence to the current political obligation towards various political forces – is the driving force. This can easily be done while completely complying with the Taef Agreement. Lebanon is in desperate need of a “new Rafik Hariri”. Many Lebanese citizens certainly possess the necessary characteristics, but the current political structure denies them the opportunity. Until this hindrance is overcome, the country might be living with the same challenges for years to come.