Lebanon: A Middle East Oasis That Deserves Preservation
For a long time, Lebanon was referred to as a Middle East oasis in view of the fact that it is a country there that does not have a desert within its borders. More importantly Lebanon is as an oasis of freedom, democracy, diversity and until now relative calm in a very turbulent region of the world. Nevertheless, most expatriate Lebanese and many Americans and other nationals of Lebanese origin currently suffer extreme anxiety about Lebanonís stability and future. The relentless violence and fragmentation in Syria and the expansion of barbaric radicalism in several additional Arab countries now constitute an existential threat to Lebanon. Yet despite all the unthinkable difficulties of the past few years, the country of the cedars has managed to survive and its population continues to have a near normal life with somewhat business as usual.
The long traditions of freedom and democracy, as well as the generally agreed upon strict division of power since independence, may have contributed to avoiding a new civil war. Nevertheless, the regional stresses have pushed the country into a dangerous political stalemate. Modern Lebanon has had a reasonable balance between Christians and Muslims as well as relative equilibrium between the Sunnis and Shias within its Muslim community. The wisdom, moderation and patriotism of the majority of Lebanese of all denominations, sects, ethnicities or confessions have certainly contributed to avoiding a complete collapse of the country. However, the deep and significant problems that continue to stress, erode and shake its constitutional institutions are perpetuating the fears and anxieties of the Lebanese and their friends, in and outside the oasis.
While its general population has distinguished itself by wisdom, tolerance and patience, Lebanonís problems continue to progress more and more into riskier situations. This is due to complex internal and external factors. Many Lebanese leaders and politicians seem to fail differentiating between the general interests of the country and their selfish benefits. Further, many have not adapted to the necessity of exercising their independence. They keep watching or waiting for a secret word or signal to come from abroad in their favor or against their adversaries.
The so called Arab Spring and the eruption of the Syrian civil war necessitated that the Lebanese overcome the chronic polarization of March 8 vs. March 14 division and find a consensus for unity to protect Lebanon from the stormy atmosphere in its neighborhood. Instead, the increasing tension between the competitors for Middle East dominance and the onset of barbaric violence in the name of religion has caused some internal fragmentation of the two main political groups as well as changes in alliances. This has further complicated any possible solution to the most important constitutional problem, the election of a new President. In the absence of such election, most other institutional problems may persist or worsen and the country will continue to suffer from very weak and shaky governance.
Two problems of immense importance cannot wait for too long before they produce irreparable consequences to the health and future of the country: The magnitude of the Syrian refugee issue remaining unchecked and practically out of control, and the accumulation of garbage, resisting solutions, with the successive failures ascribed to rampant corruption. The current government is clearly frustrated by the difficulties it encounters in trying to resolve these problems and many others, without the option to resign for fear to produce a total vacuum. Thus the election of a new President cannot be postponed too much further. Leaders in the US and the Lebanese expatriate community are constantly warning of the growing existential threats to Lebanon. Many see the Harriri support for the Frangieh candidature followed by Geagea'ssupport for the candidature of Aoun, as further complicating and inadvertently or possibly intentionally obstructing the election of a new President. We see a potentially unifying feature in the March 14 sacrificing their right to try to elect one of their own and deferring to March 8 to take the Presidency of Lebanon. To capitalize on an optimistic outlook to this development, the Lebanese leaders who participate in the dialogue process should enter into intense open discussion to convince all deputies to go to Parliament and elect one of the two current March 8 candidates, after securing a pledge that all Lebanese will support the winner. If after reasonable efforts to reach such noble democratic goal, no agreement can be reached, they should return to the search of a unity candidate from the ranks of March 8 and their allies. If they have difficulty finding such candidate, we in the expatriate community can promptly suggest two or three names fully qualified for the job and who will have the strength and ability to unify the country. Some of those, although they are not official candidates, have enough patriotism and concern for Lebanon that they may be prepared and ready to address most of the pressing issues in a courageous and timely manner.
Friends of Lebanon whether from the near east or the far west have consistently shown concern and support for the country. They recognize that in the currently globalized world the small republic with a very broadly diverse population, united in moderation, must succeed in securing peace, stability and prosperity. It should serve as a prototype for limitation of radical terrorism and previewing a better future of the world. They have always stated that Lebanon should be saved and protected. They also continue, despite sometimes conflicting interests, to do what they can to shelter Lebanon from the hurricane strength storms surrounding it. It is time that the Lebanese leaders and politicians wake up and demonstrate the necessary wisdom, patriotism and unselfish initiative, to save their beautiful oasis and secure its future stability and prosperity.
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