In the nineteenth century, Lebanon gained its tragic position as a “buffer zone” for systemic sovereignty between the major powers. In 1833, the forces of Ibrahim Pasha – son of Muhammad Ali, the governor of Egypt, who declared his opposition to the Ottoman Sultan after he was his vassal – occupied Lebanon. The British dealt with the matter differently and forced France to put pressure on its ally, the Egyptian ruler, to withdraw his son’s forces from the Lebanese mountains in 1840. Thus, the five colonial powers (France, Italy, Prussia, Austria and England) believed that Muhammad Ali’s ambitions to overthrow and replace the Ottoman monarchy were unacceptable.
In this context of the struggle for influence between the Europeans over the future of the Ottoman Empire, which the Russian diplomacy described as “the sick man”, many bloody problems broke out between the Maronite and Druze peasants for the first time in the history of the Lebanese mountain. These clashes came as a direct result of the French-British imperial competition that is focusing on this land and destroying, through its maneuvers and manipulations, the great coexistence existing for centuries in the Chouf region between the Druze and Maronite sects. From the core of this coexistence emerged the personality of Fakhr al-Din II, who ruled the Emirate of the Mountain from 1590 to 1635. In order to liberate himself from Ottoman rule, especially through establishing relations with Tuscany, Italy, the Emir had to face several military campaigns led by the Sublime forces. The Ottomans captured him and executed him by beheading him in Constantinople (now Istanbul).
In 1860, clashes escalated between the Druze supported by the Ottoman army and the Christians, and spread to the Bekaa Valley. At that time, France, during the reign of Napoleon III, decided to intervene and landed its forces on the Lebanese coast. Then the five European powers and the Ottoman Empire agreed to reduce the area of Lebanon. In exchange for “Little Lebanon”, the French authorities will announce by proxy, “Greater Lebanon” on September 1, 1920. This country, which covers an area of 10.452 square kilometers, will not stop seeing its fate linked to European imperialist rivalries, even “Western” if we include the United States, which has become After World War II, the dominant force in the “free world” was working to mobilize the three monotheistic religions to confront the strength of the Soviet Union.
Angel Poligan – Mexico
Social and economic disintegration
During the period of the French mandate (1920-1943), a decision was issued by the High Commissioner in 1936 that institutionalized the religious community in Lebanon, provided that a civil system was established for those who did not belong to these institutions. This civil status has not yet been established.
As a “buffer zone” subject to often hostile influences, Lebanon has always faced difficulty defining itself and overcoming its own contradictions. In 1949, Georges Naccache (1904-1972), a leading Lebanese journalist and founder of “Orient Le Jour”, published a resounding editorial that took him to prison. Neither the West nor Arabization: Christians and Islam concluded an alliance in a double refusal (to adopt the National Pact in November 1943, which was an unwritten compromise). He asked what kind of unity could be drawn from such a formula? “What half of the Lebanese don’t want you can see well. What the other half does not want, we can see very well. But what the halves want is what we do not see. (…) The state is not a group of incapable people – two (two loyalties) do not make a nation. ”
Later on, George Naccache would become a fan of Major General Fouad Chehab (1902-1973), Commander-in-Chief of the Lebanese Army, and then President of the Lebanese Republic between 1958 and 1964. He was the true founder of the Lebanese state. He carried out a large number of reforms with the informed advice of a Dominican priest, economist and founder of the International Institute for Research, Training, Education and Development (IRFED) Louis Josep Lepret (1897-1966). Shihab asked him to conduct a socio-economic study on living standards in various Lebanese regions between 1960 and 1964. He conducted a comprehensive survey that revealed very large social inequalities and an enormous concentration of wealth among a small minority of the Lebanese, in contrast to pockets of extreme poverty in the peripheral rural areas of the country.
In a lecture entitled “Lebanon at Turns” delivered in 1962, the Lebanese economist warned against the persistence of these disparities that might lead to the collapse of their country. This disintegration has actually occurred since 1975 in the context of a general flare up of violence between “Christian” political parties, especially the Phalange Party established by Pierre Gemayel, and the “Lebanese National Movement”.
Fouad Chehab often referred to what he called “the cheese makers” – in other words; Unscrupulous politicians who tried to reorganize the state. Internationally, the president built his foreign policy through good relations with Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser. This could only aggravate the anger of the bourgeoisie of Christian works that saw in the head the Arab and socialist Satan, the Devil himself. In the face of the momentum of reform and the presidential desire to build a strong state, the slogan of conservative Christian circles was summed up in a very inaccurate slogan, on the basis of which “Lebanon’s strength lies in its weakness.” For its part, the Muslim bourgeoisie demanded more rights in the new independent republic and generally supported the Palestinian armed movements to put pressure on the intransigent Christian bourgeoisie.
The political class is constantly engaging in societal maneuvers. It lives trapped in a bubble as if the economy continues to operate normally, forgetting the existence of a people getting poorer and poorer. Nor is it certain that the reform demands through the International Monetary Fund will be able to clean up and revitalize economic activity
Another contemporary of Fouad Chehab deserves to be mentioned due to the correctness of his vision. Michel Shiha (1891-1954), the banker and champion of economic liberalism. He was a staunch advocate of societal diversity, and he warned early on of the dangers Lebanon faced as a result of Israeli policies toward Lebanon and the Palestinians. His articles on Palestine are still a masterpiece of clarity and insight. He has already realized the existential struggle between Israel, which is based on societal exclusivity, and Lebanon, which is based on the contrary, on managing pluralism.
But in some marginal Maronite circles, the idea arose that if the Jews in Palestine had their own state, then why shouldn’t the Christians have their own state? Christians and Jews are a minority Why do not they unite against the Muslim majority? This view echoed, without her knowledge, the echo of entire Israeli literature calling for the destabilization of Lebanon and the necessity to divide the country between Christians and Muslims. We know what happened after that of the Israeli invasions of 1978 and 1982 and the massacres of Palestinian civilians …
The rentier system after 1990
The end of the cycle of inter-communal wars in 1990 did not address Lebanon’s original weaknesses and its inability to build a state. Worse, the rise to power in 1992 of Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a businessman protected from the King of Saudi Arabia and who remained in office until his death in the 2005 attack, took the country toward a rentier economic system as if he had great resources. Lebanon also signed free trade agreements with a large number of countries, which had negative repercussions on the country’s productive, industrial and agricultural capabilities. The fixed exchange rate system linking the Lebanese pound to the dollar, and the abnormally high levels of interest rates on treasury bonds in the local currency, led to an unhealthy accumulation of debt in that currency. Above all, this facilitated the rapid enrichment of the country’s wealthy class, who borrowed dollars at low interest rates and then invested in Lebanese pounds at very high returns.
During this period, the most beautiful parts of the capital were confiscated from its residents in favor of the Solidere Company, which turned the famous city center into a vulgar version of the Gulf cities made of glass and steel. In fifteen years, Beirut, devastated by many years of war, has suffered a true architectural genocide, as evidenced by the construction of a huge Turkish-style mosque that broke the former architectural beauty of the Palace of the Martyrs.
An economy vulnerable to disruption
The “Hariri” administration of the Lebanese economy was directly responsible for its weakening. Although the growth rate reached 7%, it never reached levels consistent with the post-war reconstruction period. The government did not pay much attention to tax justice. Rather, it lowered the income tax rates dramatically, while the situation required imposing a special tax on the great wealth that was made during the war. While the real estate sector boomed, it began to encounter financial difficulties very quickly as the savings of the Lebanese people were depleted due to interest rates on bank deposits or public debt bonds.
During the Hariri era, Lebanon witnessed the migration of young people alone or through a program that included thousands of scholarships for students, which explains why Rafik Hariri’s popularity among a portion of the youth continues.
But the Lebanese economy today is in danger of disruption. The de facto freezing of bank deposits, which is completely unconstitutional, testifies to the existence of a unique “bankruptcy” system in the world that is completely contrary to human rights. It is the result of a bleak management of the banking sector and of the Lebanese Central Bank, run by the Governor of the Banque du Liban, Riad Salameh, for nearly 30 years after his appointment on August 1, 1993, by a decision by Rafik Hariri, because he managed to manage wealth in Merrill Lynch Commercial Bank.
The depreciation of the Lebanese pound and the doubling of exchange rates have devastated a large portion of the middle class and pushed the poverty rate above 50% of the population.
The political class that runs the country is constantly engaging in societal maneuvers. It lives trapped in a bubble as if the economy continues to operate normally, forgetting the existence of a people getting poorer and poorer. On the other hand, it is not certain that the reform demands through the International Monetary Fund will be able to clean up and revitalize economic activity. A series of privatizations of public enterprises and the sale of state land has already been planned. Adding to all these misfortunes is the massive double explosion that occurred on August 4, which destroyed the eastern neighborhoods of the capital. The rice land has never been hit by a disaster of this magnitude.
* Excerpts from a wider article published in Le Monde Diplomatique
** A Lebanese researcher and writer, who was appointed Minister of Finance between 1998 and 2000
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