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    5 Challenges for a Post-Assad Lebanon

    This article is also available in Arabic, as published in Al-Hayat on the 24 of January 2012

    Let’s start with a chiller: Although Lebanon would be losing one major impediment to civil progress with the inevitable fall of the Assad regime in Damascus, this will not in itself move Lebanon any closer to building a strong sustainable state for its people.

    The political forces that stand to benefit from a definite end to the Assad tutelage over Lebanon must treat coming events not as an unexpected gift from the heavens but as an enabler of progress and an opportunity to confront five major challenges that Lebanon can now face, and solve, away from the Baath shadow.

    1- Ending the age of impunity

    The use of violence or threats of violence to gain political advantages must end. The Special Tribunal for Lebanon (STL) is the first serious attempt to try the perpetrators of such acts of political violence. It is therefore our best chance of ending this age of impunity where aggression and killing have become a too easy recourse for many players on the Lebanese political scene.
    In any case, the STL must now be treated as a fait-accompli. As the outcome of the recent (and futile) funding crisis has shown, Lebanon cannot afford to be at odds with international law, its banking sector being a particular Achilles heel. Full compliance is therefore necessary, including the hand-over of any Lebanese suspects to the court.

    2- Extending the State’s authority over 10,452 sq. km

    Hizbullah will be losing a valuable sponsor and will find itself further isolated regionally. With Hizbullah on the back foot, its political opponents in Lebanon must avoid any triumphalism that would only risk further exacerbating sectarian fears. Instead, courage must be found to make some political concessions to the Shia community in exchange for the voluntary and urgent disarmament of Hizbullah. The loss of its closest regional ally will force the party to face its critics at home through a more strictly Lebanese prism making a homegrown unwinding of the arms issue more likely but also potentially bumpier.

    3- Establishing a relationship of equals with the new Syria

    Any governing leadership that will emerge from a conclusive uprising in Syria is likely to be hostile to Iran and to Hizbullah. The party’s political opponents in Lebanon must resist enlisting their long-lost brethren to add foreign muscle to their side of the political struggle. Replacing Syrian tutelage channeled through a certain party with tutelage channeled through another will of course take us nowhere.
    A relationship of equals based on common interests and mutual respect on a nation-to-nation level must instead be built.

    4- Liberalising the economy and regaining control of sovereign debt

    With public debt at about 135% of GDP (nearly as high as Greece), Lebanon needs to get its act together quickly to balance its books. Tax collection needs to become more rigorous and tax-loopholes need to be resolutely shut. On the other side of the equation, government spending needs to be more heavily scrutinised: every tax-payer Pound must count. For that, increased transparency in government tenders and pay must be achieved with the details of these made easily available for public scrutiny.
    Mismanagement, corruption and “technical losses” at Electricité du Liban cost the government around $1.2 bn a year and will most likely require the institution to be rebuilt from the top down.
    The financial black holes that are the Council for the South and the Council for the Displaced must be swiftly plugged. In their sad existence they have done little other than ‘displace’ buckets of public funds into nothingness.
    Finally, important economic liberalisations need to be pushed forward to enable economic growth and empowerment. These are: Revoking state protection over exclusive import agencies (probably one of the most anti-competitive laws in the book); liberalising the electricity production sector to allow independent producers to sell surplus production on the national grid; liberalising the telecom sector, including the two state-owned mobile phone networks; and moving towards private management for state assets like the Beirut silos, the Beirut and Tripoli ports and the Casino du Liban.

    5- Designing strong state institutions

    With Assad’s demise, this country will become more free as the result of political realignments abroad. The aim of political reform should be to make Lebanon free – not by chance – but by design.
    To achieve this, steps must be taken to break up sectarian monopolies in every sector of public life. A good place to start would be the drafting of a new electoral law based on proportional representation and incorporating other important reforms like the pre-printed ballot and stricter limits on campaign spending.
    Next, the foundations for a non-sectarian political system must be laid: We must study our options for creating a powerful parliamentary upper house – or senate – that would represent communities and allay sectarian fears while making inroads towards creating a non-confessional lower house of representatives.
    Simultaneously, an “opt-in” civil status code should be introduced allowing willing citizens to use the State as deliberator in matters such as marriage, divorce and inheritance if they so choose.
    In education, the huge swathes of missing national history in our children’s history books, namely the period from 1945 to today, leaves modern Lebanese history open to the convenient interpretations of various sects and political groups, effectively sowing the seeds for violent confrontation along sectarian lines in the future.
    Let there be no illusions or hopes of a sudden political revolution, the state and indeed the political system that Lebanese liberals strive for will only be achieved one reform at a time, painfully and opportunistically. Faith in the State, as in anything, cannot be built overnight.

    The sudden collapse of Assad’s political and intelligence apparatus in the country will leave a gaping void in the Lebanese political scene. A game-changer, some would say.
    As some political forces fizzle out and others re-orbit in the aftermath of this seismic shift, liberal reformists with a clear vision for the country are well placed to take a more important role on the Lebanese political scene but must act fast lest this opportunity be hijacked by yet another malign force.
    They must push not just for progress along these five fronts but for definite resolutions to these challenges to fully capitalise on the shift in the immediate aftermath of Assad’s impending fall. Now that would be game-changing.

    Nadim Lahoud

    13 responses to “5 Challenges for a Post-Assad Lebanon”

    1. Jonathan says:

      Below are the mistakes in the aricle:
      1) Achilles HEEL not heal. Different meaning,
      2) ” and find itself further isolated regionally.”, sentence construction is incorrect.
      3) Public debt to GDP is in excess of 150%

      Although you have a point, raising concerns on very important, valid and problematic issues (EDL, Council for the South ect..), you seem to have told the truth, nothing but the truth, but not the whole truth. Seems to me you are forgetting other instances of fraud, such as Solidere, Sukleen, Telecom industry, local electricity generators and other such issues whereby the main beneficiaries are politicians from all sides inclusive of March 8, March 14, Muslim as well as Christian. Please do admit that all of these politicians profit illegal or unethically from such activities. A real solution would be decentralisation and small government. Leave politics to the politicians (no religious leaders or businessmen) and business to the businessmen (no politicians or religious leaders).

      Whether the party stealing from me is foreign or local, Muslim or Christian, state or individual does not make a difference, they all must stop. I regret having to mention Muslim or Christian twice, but I feel compelled when the author of this article raised the fraud concerns committed only by one political party and not the others.

      As for the STL, although I do believe that justice should always be served, I simply don’t believe the STL will bring us such. Ever since the establishment of the UN I fail to see how any international court has not been politicised and failed miserably to serve those it was intended to. Starting with the ICC for Omar al Bashir (charges may be dropped if al Bashir is compliant with “international” concerns over Darfur) to Rwandan genocide and Yugoslav wars, Saddam Hussein and Augusto Pinochet. The perpetrators of each of these genocides were originally allies to the west and reasonable or benevolent dictators back then. Seems quite coincidental that tribunals are set up after the accused refuses to comply with the West, and as for genocides committed by people still loyal to the west have fallen on deaf ears. They are plenty starting with the Vietnam War, Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the Algerian war of independence amongst others.

      Thank you.

    2. Nadim Lahoud says:

      Hi Jonathan,

      First, thanks for spotting those mistakes, good eye. They have been duly corrected.

      As for for the other issues you mention, my list is by no means exhaustive and that is quite clear right from the title of the post.

      Also, I really don’t see any basis to your accusation of partisanship on my part. Is the EdL fiasco the work of one single party or is it rather the result of decades of failure by successive governments (including Hariri’s) ? That’s just one example.

      On the STL, it is not the whole system of international justice that is on trial here. It is silly to dismiss it because of post-colonial conspiracy theories that may or may not have grounding. Let the STL start its trial before we judge it.


    3. Jonathan says:

      The EDL fiasco benefited mainly one party, Amal, despite Harriri’s collaboration as part of their “you scratch my back and I’ll scratch yours” deal.
      I would not call the 3.5 million deaths in Vietnam, 600 thousand in Algeria, tens of thousands in Palestine, thousands in Chile as conspiracies but as facts. The accusation of courts being biased could be conspiracy but the death toll is completely factual. As for my main argument for the UN being biased is the availability of the veto for 5 nations. This means that these 5 nations are above the law since no UN resolution (hence no court) can be formed against them given their veto power. One instance would be the UN’s participation in the Korean war on the American side, and the lack of proper condemnation against Israel or the US for the wars in Vietnam or Iraq or Palestine ect… The idea of few nations policing the world does not fit within the confines of justice but of bullying. One supporter of this idea is an american presidential candidate Ron Paul.

      I appreciate the professionalism of the article in regards to neutrality (more so than most articles concerning Lebanese politics) and content, I just disagree on that point in specific. Will add more later.

    4. Rami Kiwan says:

      Hi Nadim,

      It’s one of the best sum-ups I’ve recently read on the situation in Lebanon.
      The general government gross debt you listed is correct and refers to 2010.
      I’m not worried about debt itself in Lebanon. 80% is held be the domestic sector. The main concern must be interests we’re paying on it (6%-8% on average), while the LIBOR tend to zero nowadays!
      Greece is much complicated. Its debt has become unsustainable more than 2 years ago – and not recently, but nobody gave a shit. Next year its ratio is estimated to be around 170%.


    5. Jonathan says:

      Apologies, Lebanon’s GDP in 2010 was USD 39.25bn according to IMF. Debt according to the ministry of finance is c. USD 53bn (Debt to GDP of 135%), I was however accounting for off-balance sheet debt, debt to GDP rises high above 150%. (rough estimate since off balance sheet debt is hard to estimate)

      Since taking into account off-balance sheet debt is not conventional, I am assuming debt to GDP is 135%, domestic debt however accounts for 60% of our public debt as of 2010. Btw LIBOR is not a good benchmark, typically you should look at the highest rated government bonds such as USA, UK and Germany who typically pay slightly above 2%, btw Italy pays almost as much as we do on its debt.

    6. […] This post by Nadim Lahoud might as well be entitled: How to turn Lebanon into a normal country. Tweet Tags: Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink. […]

    7. Lyna Comaty says:

      Great job, “generation 1990”! :) 5 main, big challenges. Not easy and certainly not the end of the list. And very well said: “treat coming events not as an unexpected gift from the heavens but as an enabler of progress and an opportunity to confront five major challenges that Lebanon can now face, and solve.” I’d add to this the continuation of an incomplete and badly managed transition from ‘tutelage’ to ‘independence and sovereignty’ since 2005.

      This brings me to challenge n.3: I’d be inclined to think that establishing a relationship of equal diplomacy between Lebanon and Syria is the most urgent aspect of future collaboration. We failed to adequately do it in 2005 and we must not fail now. We should have worked on many socio political aspects of the Syrian presence to diffuse this feeling of resentment and (maybe) hate that too many Lebanese still hold. For instance, compensating former political detainees who still feel unfairly treated; turning detention centers into places of memory where the stories of thousands of prisoners would be told; maybe apologizing for collaboration (without judicial processes); reforming the security part of the Treaty of ‘Brotherhood’ among so many other reforms of the treaty; regulating the labor laws (after thanking Syrians main d’oeuvre for rebuilding the country); the list could go on. I am not being an idealist – realpolitik does not permit that, but there is a bare minimum.

      Regarding to the fifth challenge, how far can we go to link the weakness of our state institutions with the Syrian regime? True, the divide and conquer strategy coupled with playing the arbitrary for 15 years benefited the Syrian regime at the demise of the Lebanese post-conflict regime. However I find myself wondering sometimes whether we blame others too much for our own mistakes, much like we like to refer to the years of war as a “war of others on our soil”. Lebanese leaders of the post-confict order did not do the job they were required to do. Rather, it was also in their interest to solidify their confessional and clientelist networks – at the expense of building state institutions.

      Finally, as an answer to Jonathan, justice is by no means a political process. It is politicized, I’d say. Yes, international tribunals (or national ones) have never answered to a by-the-book concept of justice and one can always place criticism. What would be the alternative, I ask? Letting Pinochet travel in Europe on the loose? Let the Khmer leaders enjoy their freedom? The hutus unpunished? Finally, with regards to the STL, as Nadim said it, let the trial start before we judge it. Thousands of experts have their eyes on it – from university professors to lawyers who have absolutely no stake in Lebanese petty politics. I believe their point of view and criticism is much more legitimate than, let’s say, Hezbollah’s (…)

      Finally, I would have liked to have enough economic knowledge to participate in the argument around the debt and the interest rates etc. but I don’t. The only thing I am missing is a little more politics and a little less economy. or some political economy. Am not sure how much we can compare Greece with Lebanon – but one common point is that their economic problems are rooted in their political systems.

    8. Elias says:

      Good article. I
      It seems to me that no make-up session (i.e. the five proposed recommendations) would turn this hideous creature into a nation. It needs a not only a makeover but a detox program!
      You have not mentioned the one impediment to all of the above and that is the presence of many states within a state, one of which is more advanced than the others.
      The development of mini-states is, of course, due to top-down imposition. Let us admit, however, that such entrenchment would be impossible or considerably more challenging without a harboring environment. Ergo my point in that the main challenge, notwithstanding the outcome of the current Syrian situation, will remain that of establishing a societal contract, the terms of which have never been fully negotiated between the parties.
      Since its inception, the “country” has been run based on a Letter of Intent, rendered obsolete with time. The challenges facing Lebanon’s youth is to create a safe agora of dialogue, in order to attempt to renegotiate, de novo, a new social contract, one that takes into account all the particularities of the contracting parties, one that clearly defines the state, its citizens, their binding obligations and mutual responsibilities and expectations, etc…
      I humbly submit that, until Lebanon’s youth engages in this dialogue, discussions of cleaning up rampant corruption, establishing economic stewardship, democratic reforms, etc… are, sadly as futile as engaging in speculation over the outcome of the Syrian regime.
      Thank you for the good read.
      Jonathan, I apologize in advance for the haste in which this post was written (see errors)!

    9. Jonathan says:

      I think you may have misunderstood me, especially since I didn’t have the time to finalize my argument. Anyways I don’t think Pinochet and the Hutus ect should be allowed to go free. In fact they are nowadays on trial, (and they deserve it), by the very people who enabled them to commit these genocides. USA aided Pinochet to commit his coup d’état, the French armed the Hutus ect…. FYI I would hardly compare the death of a corrupt politician and c. 20 civilians/guards to that of hundreds of thousands of innocent civilians.
      I agree that these people deserve the death penalty; however the point which I was trying to make was that these courts are heavily politicized and their main goal is to serve these Western nations and not spread justice at all. Therefore the consequences or main outcomes of this trial will be more beneficiary to these foreign nations rather than our people.
      I find it revolting that we are attempting to bring the Syrian regime to justice for the killing of Rafic el Harriri rather than the murder of thousands of Lebanese soldiers/resistance/intellectuals over 15 years. I find it humiliating that we should compare the death of a corrupt politician (by international law he would be serving a life sentence) with that of thousands of Lebanese who were detained and/or killed by that regime.
      Finally, as I mentioned before concerning the UN, who are they to police the world especially when 5 nations have the veto power. To quote comedian George Carlin:”It’s a small club and you ain’t in it!”. The culprit will not necessarily be brought to justice (Syrian regime as well as most probably Israel and the US). Why spend money we don’t have (the STL is being funded through government bonds, i.e. debt) on a court that will barely bring us any benefit (I wrote about other courts worldwide to illustrate how this court will pan out, I don’t really need to wait for it to start). I’ll be on board when the court is set up by the Lebanese people (no foreign interference inclusive of the UN) with the majority of our politicians on trial for crimes committed against our society and not on puppets of other regimes who destroy our society for their own personal gain.

    10. Lyna Comaty says:

      I like the marxist comment, it resonates well against the debate about bonds and interest rates and libor and gdp before that. Marxism is the solution for theoretical problems and not for practical political ones. We’ve seen what it does when it is practiced by men.
      What you are describing is, alas, the state of the world today. There is a system that dictates the way the world functions and all institutions are built upon it and revolve around it, in a way that their construction guarantees the survival of the system. That, Jonathan, is called Human Rights Discourse/International Justice/United Nations/Humanitarianism and they are all products of the capitalist system, they were all born this last century. So, obviously, up to a certain extent and one should not exaggerate, these courts will only indict enemies of the ‘system’.
      nb. by saying “I agree that these people deserve the death penalty” , please don’t make me say things I don’t believe in such as ‘death penalty’.
      nb2. The STL is not financed by government bonds, but by the Higher relief council.

    11. Jonathan says:


      I am confused, which comment have you labeled Marxist? My comment on bonds and LIBOR was not Marxist at all, I am simply pointing out that looking at LIBOR to explain or derive any analysis on our interest rates is not very accurate, instead one should look at the highest rated (AAA or AA since few nations are still AAA) government bonds like the US T-bonds or the German bunds. I know textbooks say we should look at LIBOR or EUROBOR or the Fed rate, however common practice is different, if you are interested I can explain. Also the higher relief council receives funding from the government who has to sell bonds to raise that money, the only reason why this detour was taken was so that the STL does get funded without having Hezbollah succeed defeat or go back on their word (although they did, it’s just for show).
      As for the second part of your argument, I am for a capitalist system. Believe me I am, I am only criticizing the UN and their supposed right to police the world. Capitalism existed long before the UN or the League of Nations (UN’s predecessor). The capitalist system and the UN or American Supremacy systems are completely different. If you still believe my argument is false or Marxists please look up Republican presidential candidate Congressman Ron Paul. Ron Paul, as I, is a Libertarian. We believe in capitalism, we believe in Laissez Faire capitalism. We believe in it so much that we think government intervention should be very limited (small government) since free markets are more efficient than governments (same reasons why communist collapsed). However we also believe that the US (and any other nation for that matter) has no right to police the world, whether it is direct or through the UN. Look up Ron Paul’s view on economics and foreign policy.

    12. Jonathan says:

      Ah I almost forgot, during the Rwanda genocide the UN protected only “Caucasian” Europeans and Americans as they watched the Hutus massacre the Tutsi (look it up it is very true). Also as for the humanitarianism of the US and the UN, I would like to remind the world that when Madeleine Albright was asked whether the death of 500,000 Iraqi civilians due to the US sanctions was worth taking out Saddam, she calmly replied: Yes I believe it was. We only regard these people as humanitarian because they won. “La raison du plus fort est toujours la meilleur”. Concerning crimes against humanity and the hypocrisy of how things are portrayed kindly watch a documentary called “The Fog of War” by Secretary of Defense Robert Strange McNamara. Mr. McNamara was a Lieutenant Colonel in the US Army, the Secretary of Defense for 7 years (61-68) and President of the World Bank for 13 years (68-81). His credentials as well as Congressman Ron Paul’s, speak for themselves. Ron Paul has been a congressman for over 21 years and served in the US military for 5 years.

    13. Nadim Shehadi says:

      Nadim, great piece and there is nothing wrong with being partisan. The sixth challenge is for to explain to your generation born after the war which turned 21 this year, that the Lebanese system has its merits. The country is in transition since 2005 and this will take a long time. The Syrian regime has already collapsed for all intents and purposes and we are already in its aftermath. The impact on Lebanon can only be positive if the country breaks out of its paralysis.

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