Happy Independence Day Lebanon: Now let's dismantle the state

Happy Independence Day Lebanon: Now let's dismantle the state
3 min read
22 Nov, 2015
72 years after its independence, Lebanon remains trapped in cycles of political vacuum and governance dysfunction. A whole re-imagining of Lebanon is therefore needed, says Karim Traboulsi
Lebanon's sovereignty has been repeatedly violated by Israel, Syria, non-state actors and recently, Russia [AFP]

On the 72nd anniversary of gaining - nominal - independence from France, Lebanon, as always, is at a crossroads.

Lebanon is a textbook example of a failed state. Yet it survives and functions on several levels. How is that possible?

It functions because Lebanese people like most other people placed in post-apocalyptical conditions, muddle through with a lot of creativity. They find ways to replace the functions of the state, from power-generation and healthcare, to dealing with their waste.

Every political party in Lebanon champions the creation of a strong, functional state in its rhetoric. At least as a literary device meant to move on to the real item on their agendas, namely, advancing their narrow interests.

But in Lebanon, we have a functioning "non-state". It is not perfect, and it is prone to exploitation and corruption, but so is the state. We have a semi-working model of self-governance where the state is parasitical and largely unnecessary.

Lebanon is a libertarian dreamland. In truth, any sample of Lebanese will tell you that building a real state in Lebanon is just impossible.

So instead of pursuing a state, what we should do is improve our non-state structure and scale-back the corrupt post-civil war parasitical central government largely established to silence warlords by letting them co-govern and co-loot the country.

Lebanon is an ideal candidate for experimenting with new forms of governance, with a combination of regionalism, anarcho-syndicalism and libertarianism if you like. Because let's face it, outside a "Green Zone" of sorts in Beirut, the Lebanese state is practically non-existent.

Apart from having de facto quasi-state bodies in Lebanon, there is already a de facto federalism.

Instead of continuing to kick the irreconcilable differences of the Lebanese down the road, hoping one side will triumph over the other eventually and living in complete paralysis until it does, we need to think of creative ways to govern ourselves efficiently.

No constituency in the country is strong enough to impose its vision or unite the country on the basis of one identity, agenda or policy. This will not change, as its each constituency in Lebanon has its foreign sponsors.

Lebanon has to be broken down into smaller administrative units that have more autonomy in deciding most matters, from taxation and development, to policing, waste management and urban planning.

True, the tricky issues of national defence and foreign policy would remain a problem, but at least they would affect less the day-to-day issues as they do now.

One argument against federalism in Lebanon is that it accentuates sectarian divisions. But it is the central government that has done just that.

The central government concentrates too much power in the hands of cross-regional sectarian leaders.

In truth, in a federal Lebanon, there would be both regions where one constituency dominates, and regions where constituencies would be of equal size.

Multiculturalism is an issue that no country has resolved yet, and Lebanon will fare neither better nor worse, so the sectarian argument should not be used against federalism or more regional autonomy.

These regions would be more democratic and accountable than our current central structures. They have to, because they would be competing with each other over investments and quality of life, and sooner or later people will realise democracy is the best way to achieve this.

A constitutional convention to reimagine Lebanon on these foundations should lead the demands of current and future advocacy efforts. We need to develop homegrown solutions to our problems of governance, not import a Eurocentric model created for another people and culture.

Repairing the failed state might sound like less work, but it is doomed to fail and to perpetuate our cyclical problems, because they are structural and inherent to the Lebanese system.

Opinions expressed in this article remain those of the author and do not necessarily represent those of al-Araby al-Jadeed, its editorial board or staff.