The Forsch View: Lebanon’s uprising and the EU

The following piece is the first by our new columnist Thomas Forsch, an international lawyer, author and political theorist.

The European Union needs to ensure its member states stand with the Lebanese people and will support the long-overdue structural and political reforms in the country.

And the European leaders should be courageous, freeze the illegally embezzled funds in the hands of corrupt Lebanese politicians, and return those funds to the people of Lebanon to rebuild their homeland.

I still remember my early visits to Lebanon in the mid-1990s.

Entering the country through Beirut airport, it felt annoying that I had my passport controlled at five different checkpoints.

The last check was done just at the exit door by a guy in a colourful Hawaiian shirt.

Always and without fail. As I learnt from my Lebanese friends – that was the Syrian Secret Service.

The official Syrian presence is long gone. But foreign influence continues until this day in secret.

The ruthlessly spinning rumour mill spills out where Syrians, Iranians, Russians and others dabble their dirty hands in what should be Lebanese domestic affairs.

Alas, there’s never any hard evidence. Life for many ordinary Lebanese has become harder and harder over the years; miraculously, at the same time, those with power and money have been able to increase their wealth.

Every so often there’s a promise of improvement, solely to be followed by nothing.

Despite painting itself as the oldest democracy in the Middle East, past elections have changed nothing.

Yes, once in a while fresh faces appear on the political scene.

Unfortunately, the same old family names are attached to these new faces.

Parliament seats and powerful positions in government remain a hereditable commodity in Lebanon.

Policies stay the same. At least they have been until now, until this fateful October 2019.

Since mid-October, Lebanese women and men from all walks of life and confessions, have come together in the streets of Beirut, Tripoli, and around the country to carry on their dance with destiny.

They celebrate a rather uniquely Lebanese ‘Revolution Party’. But no one is fooled by the almost festive atmosphere – the Lebanese in the streets are determined.

They realise that the time for change is now.

The vast majority of them want nothing less than a complete change of the system – the century-old maze of power-sharing, which has prevented a real democracy in Lebanon in the past, needs to come to an end.

They want a future for their country where people get positions in government and administration through fair and transparent elections based on merit, not on clan-membership.

More importantly, the protesters want to hold those who have served themselves and their own pockets while they were in public service accountable.

The Lebanese Revolution is a grassroots movement which started through social media calls for protest primarily by grassroots organisations like LiHaqqi and others.

Yet, it is still a leaderless movement, albeit one that displays tremendous resolve.

The Lebanese comedian Nemr Abou Nassar has started an attempt to unite all Lebanese with his One Lebanon initiative, but it’s still in its infancy and needs to pick up steam. Or other efforts may gain momentum.

At one point, new leadership will emerge, but the international community has to give it time and wait until the Lebanese people are ready.

Until then, the EU needs to standby and be prepared to offer help when the Lebanese ask for it.

And our European leaders have to stop supporting the existing oligarchy that desperately tries to cling on to its power.

The EU’s High Representative’s declaration on October 25 – which inadvertently aids resigned PM Hariri and his government – needs to be revoked urgently.

A new declaration, supporting the Lebanese people and their democratic elected future leadership is in order.

The new declaration should be combined with a clear warning to all outside forces not to interfere in Lebanese national matters.

And it must be reinforced by swift action – the freeze of all funds in European banks stolen by corrupt politicians from the free people of Lebanon.

And if self-serving political tacticians in Brussels are too hesitant to act, I hope enough European citizens will speak up and push their elected EU parliamentarians to take action.

Our Lebanese friends are fighting for true democracy in the streets of their amazing country – and they deserve our European friendship and support.

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