Those of us who have a deep abiding love for Lebanon are devastated watching this amazing country blessed with so many of God’s gifts fall to its knees, especially because Lebanon’s descent into darkness is not due to any natural disaster.
We are crying for Lebanon’s beautiful, bustling capital Beirut, much of it now destroyed or damaged by an explosion, so massive that its fallout resembled that of a small nuclear bomb. We are crying for the families and friends of all those who lost their lives and for the seriously injured in hospitals. We are crying for the parents hurting from the loss of a child. We are sad for the churches, mosques and hospitals shattered by the blast and feel sorry for those who witnessed their homes and businesses razed to the ground.
Lebanon was once portrayed as God’s heaven on earth. It is a land that nurtures culture, artistic endeavours, business acumen and unbreakable family ties. It is a land that bore renowned artists, poets, writers, actors, designers and entrepreneurs, many of whom left in search of greater opportunity. But those who took themselves out of Lebanon soon discover that Lebanon can never be erased from their hearts.
Lebanese people of all ages outside the country have stood with their homeland, supporting their compatriots irrespective of their religion. In a crisis, they stand united, and for that they should feel very proud. I salute all those who have offered material help according to their means. Many who have given are not wealthy, but they felt duty-bound to make a contribution. I salute these people even as Lebanese billionaires and multi-millionaires with few exceptions have yet to come forward.
I have also been touched at the way the Lebanese have opened their homes to strangers so that nobody is destined to sleep on the street and I highly respect the young people who took it upon themselves to cleanup the areas that suffered the blast. The spirit of the Lebanese following this disaster has been nothing short of inspirational.
People from all corners of the planet have recently expressed their love for Lebanon as well as their admiration for the way the Lebanese refuse to let life’s knocks, no matter how hard they may be, stifle their natural joie de vivre.
That said the youth is tired of having to put on a brave face; they want more. They are demanding a brand-new political system capable of delivering a future constructed on a solid foundation of stability and security which can only be achieved when sectarian loyalties come second to patriotism. The day when every son and daughter of Lebanon link arms and say in unison, “We are all proud Lebanese” will be the dawn of the country’s blossoming.
I have been penning articles for many years pleading with the Lebanese to put the love of country before all and to work at ridding themselves of their divisive and antiquated confessional political system. The Lebanese know what must be done, but they’ve been out-manoeuvred by the old guard.
Reform is always on the table, and that is where it stays, promises and pledges conveniently forgotten which is the reason negotiations with the IMF on a US$ 10 billion loan collapsed and a virtual donor conference hosted by France and the UN drummed up a mere drop in the ocean. The country is in immediate need of billions, but donor nations insist that aid is conditional upon the implementation of reforms.
This is the moment for the world to pressurize Lebanon to free itself from its cancerous political system with demands for a constitutional shakeup. This will allow for free and transparent elections towards the appointment of honest, hardworking citizens of all faiths and sects purely based on their qualifications and experience rather on where they congregate to pray.
The Lebanese must be ready to escape from a crippling political time warp that has inextricably bound religion and state, one that keeps them locked into different – and sometimes feuding camps. Elections should be closely monitored and verified by international bodies.
On Tuesday, the Lebanese prime minister and his cabinet resigned in response to street protests. Still, they will remain as a caretaker government until the people can once again cast their ballots. Hopefully, elections will soon be scheduled and this time the Lebanese will choose competent individuals with a clean track record.
No new government has a magic bullet to solve problems but provided its members are open to making reforms and to working with friendly nations like France and many countries around the world that have Lebanon’s interests at heart as well as the IMF and the World Bank, the country will ascend to new heights.
A renewed constitution as a prelude to fresh trustworthy faces in the cabinet and parliament will open the door to mega investments, so grand that Lebanon will only need short term loans to begin reconstructing infrastructure and rebuilding its economy.
Financial support from foreign nations at this juncture is necessary but it is just a temporary respite. Unless the system and those who have been profiting from it for decades is changed, Lebanon could find itself struggling alone. I strongly believe that the people are hungry for change; their patience has run dry and the powers that be understand that.
I am certain that once the first rung of this new ladder is climbed in the form of a revised constitution and new elections, whichever comes first, the whole world will stand with Lebanon. We must all assist the country in resurrecting itself as one nation united under one cedar flag.
I cannot wait for the day when my beloved Lebanon gets back to a firm footing enabling its brightest and best to shine. I look forward to experiencing Beirut’s carefree ambience again and to celebrating its reconstruction just as I did when the late Prime Minister Rafik Hariri, a great man whom I considered a friend, rebuilt the capital’s stunning Downtown. In that case,we on the outside looking in should prepare to be astonished. My gut feeling tells me the good days are yet to come but come they will…and soon.
By Khalaf Ahmad Al-Habtoor