In this week’s media roundup of the Arab world, Arab writers from Lebanon and Saudi Arabia, opine on the story dominating international news – The Blast in Beirut.
Experience is the Teacher of fools
By Rafiq Khoury
Nida Al-Watan, Lebanon, August 8
“Experience is the teacher of fools,” says the oft-cited American proverb. That is, foolish people only learn from personal experience rather than witnessing others’ mistakes. Lebanon certainly fits this bill. Our country is afflicted not only by the terrible explosion that ravaged Beirut last week, but also – and perhaps more importantly – by the corrupt, fraudulent, and rotten political system governing us. Neither one of these catastrophes will be solved in isolation; they must be addressed together.
Rebuilding Beirut and saving the Lebanese economy from collapse will have to come hand in hand with freeing up our country from corruption in our political, financial and defense establishments. This is the exact message that French, American and even Arab allies have sent to Lebanon over the past week. It is also the message made by French President Emmanuel Macron during his historic visit to Beirut. Macron laid out a clear road map: Aid will flow to Lebanon if – and only if – the country rids itself of corruption and rebuilds its political system.
Macron is willing to put this to the test. He is scheduled to visit Beirut again in a few short weeks, on September 1, for the 100th anniversary of General Gouraud’s proclamation of the establishment of the State of Greater Lebanon, the predecessor of modern Lebanon. Unfortunately, Lebanon’s authorities still have not internalized Macron’s message. If anything, Lebanese politicians seem to follow the opposite approach of continuing with their lies and deceit in order to evade accountability. They understand that fighting corruption means uncovering the structure of Lebanon’s entire political system and, with that, an end to their robbery of public and private money, superiority over the law and evasion of responsibility. Political reforms mean an end to their deep-seated habits.
Thankfully, Macron’s visit reminded us amid complete despair that Lebanon can still resuscitate its relationship with the Arab and international community. But to do so, we must defend the Lebanon we long for, not the Lebanon we live in. Lebanon must free itself of Hezbollah’s grip, which puts us at a continuous risk of war with Israel. Lebanon must distance itself from Iran instead of trying to mimic Tehran’s political, religious and social structures.
And finally, Lebanon must install a new government that is accountable to the public. Let us hope that we can finally learn from our mistakes instead of waiting for another disaster to happen.
– Rafiq Khoury
The Economy Second, Hezbollah First
By Khalid Bin Hamad
Al-Jazirah, Saudi Arabia, August 8
Officials in Lebanon have already begun discussing the cost of rehabilitating Beirut from the terrible explosion in its port. Indeed, the governor of Beirut has indicated that the price tag will range somewhere from $3 billion to $5 billion before all damages are even counted. Similarly, the Lebanese prime minister, Hassan Diab, has called on all of those who “love Lebanon” to hurry up and support its economy, which basically was on the brink of collapse even before this disaster.
Sadly, those who speak of economic support and financial aid forget that there is something far more important: political transparency. As dozens of innocent Lebanese civilians are struggling to maintain their daily lives in a destroyed city, it is our duty, as Lebanon’s allies, to ensure that the political conditions that led to this disaster do not repeat themselves. What will happen after we support the Lebanese economy? Will the political deadlock change?
Will corruption disappear?
I am talking about aid that extends beyond immediate medical and food supplies, for which the Lebanese people are desperate for right now. Who will ensure that the dollars we funnel into Lebanon at a later stage will actually make their way to the Lebanese people?
The president of the republic, the Prime Minister, the Speaker of Parliament, ministers, representatives and all other elected Lebanese officials must interact with the public in an honest and transparent way. They must answer the tough questions about what led to this horrific explosion that killed dozens and injured thousands. Most importantly, Beirut will never be rebuilt as long as it remains imprisoned and bound by the decisions issued by Hezbollah based on marching orders coming from Tehran.
If the Lebanese want one government, one military and one law for everyone, they must remove Hezbollah from their political system. We in the Arab world empathize with the people of Lebanon. We wish them well and we hope that they will overcome the effects of this disaster. This can only happen if they stand up against corruption and against the conspirators who undermined their country from within.
Those whose ultimate loyalty is to Iran cannot claim to care about the Lebanese nation. The entire world now stands in solidarity with Lebanon and understands the country’s urgent need for support. Our ultimate goal should be to direct as much humanitarian aid to the country as we possibly can. But we should hold off on writing checks.
Any aid to the Lebanese economy must be conditional upon the removal of Hezbollah from the government, the supervision over where funds are going and the implementation of political reforms that Lebanon has already committed itself to. Any armed group outside the Lebanese military must be disbanded while the political structure in Lebanon must be redesigned from the foundations up.
– Khalid Bin Hamad
The Beirut Explosion – An Anti-Corruption Domino Effect
By Tariq Tarshishi
Al-Joumhouria, Lebanon, August 8
The investigation into what exactly occurred at the port of Beirut last week might be ongoing, but one thing has been clear from the very outset: The cause for the blast that shook Beirut is corruption. Like other catastrophes that struck our country in the past, the Beirut explosion is first and foremost a political disaster created by our leaders. Lebanon’s corrupt political system plundered our country’s wealth and deprived our people of their ability to live a dignified life.
Corruption is what kept 2,700 tons of ammonium nitrate in the middle of a bustling port that serves as the beating heart of our country’s economy. Corruption is also what led to the death of more than 150 innocent people whose only sin was to be in the wrong place at the wrong time in their country’s capital city.
This crime will not go by uninvestigated, and the culprits will not evade judgment. We will require our elected officials to come out to the public and speak. Simply resigning from their positions will not suffice, since it means evading responsibility and deflecting attention onto someone else. And as soon as we get the answers we want, we will turn to parliamentary elections.
In the case of Lebanon, these elections should have happened much sooner. The Beirut disaster will serve as a force majeure that will make our politicians reveal their secret practices and come clean about what they may or may not have done. Undoubtedly, one of our government’s greatest calamities has been its continuous inability to initiate the reforms requested by the international community and by international financial institutions that have offered to save Lebanon from collapse. This inability to act and accept the help of others during dire times raises suspicion about the motivations of our elected officials.
We all know that reluctance to cooperate with international donors has stemmed primarily from the fear of revealing our nation’s persistent corruption and cronyism. Now that all screens have been lifted and all hurdles have been removed, our politicians have nowhere to hide. They will have to come clean and be held accountable.
The disastrous explosion in Beirut symbolizes the collapse of the cornerstone of the Lebanese brick wall. With its fall, other stones will soon drop as well. And once momentum is gained, nothing will stop the truth from coming to light. The disaster has triggered an irreversible and unstoppable domino effect that will unveil the full extent of corruption in Lebanon.
– Tariq Tarshishi
*Translated by Asaf Zilberfarb
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