Saving Lebanon

Without exaggeration, Ralph Nader is one of the transformational figures in recent US history. Because of his efforts, we drive safer cars, have cleaner water and air, and have safer homes and places of work. It wasn’t easy. To build the movement for change, he confronted major US corporations, banks, and powerful political lobbies, all with entrenched interests in maintaining the status quo. Ralph Nader is also a deeply committed Arab American of Lebanese descent and a tireless advocate for justice for Arabs and against discrimination here in the US. For months, he and I have been discussing the continuing crisis in Lebanon and what, if anything, can be done to pull the country back from the abyss and create viable institutions to provide needed services and earn public trust.
Up until now, proposals to solve Lebanon’s crisis have involved making recommendations to Lebanon’s leaders to make reforms. What’s troubling is the futility of calling on the very same corrupt sectarian leaders who have driven the country to ruin to reform themselves out of business—with the US and other international bodies offering incentives or sanctions to motivate them to adopt these measures. Reflecting on this conundrum, Ralph Nader sent me a memorandum providing both an analysis of the Lebanese crisis and a radical proposal for a way forward.
He begins by observing that “Lebanon is a failed state…Its staggeringly corrupt, sectarian government enriches a cabal of leaders…at the expense of the Lebanese people…Many of Lebanon’s political pathologies are enshrined in its Constitution which…prescribes sectarian divisions.” But, Nader continues, there is a way forward because “the Lebanese constitution also acknowledges that…the people are the source of power and sovereignty” leading him to conclude that “the people collectively retain the right to dispense with the current constitutional dispensation and provide for a successor better suited for their liberty, safety, and happiness.”
Based on this, Nader calls for “representatives of a broad spectrum of Lebanese public opinion petition the UN Security Council under Chapter VII to establish a UN Transitional Authority for Lebanon headed by a designee of the Secretary-General and entrusted with the short-term governance of Lebanon with apolitical experts (drawn from vast pool of accomplished political and business professionals in the Lebanese emigre community)…and tasked with the organizing and conducting an election of a constituent assembly to write a new constitution with a subsequent referendum.”
Two observations can be made with certainty. First, Lebanon‘s sectarian leaders will undoubtedly reject such a radical proposal, as will Hezbollah, since it threatens their power and sources of wealth. But relying on these leaders and groups to find a way out of the mess they have created is a nonstarter.
Second, based on our three decades of polling in Lebanon, we know that substantial majorities of Lebanese, across all regions and religious groups, have little confidence in the traditional sectarian parties and leaders and, more importantly, want to rewrite the constitution to provide for one-man/one-vote representative elections. We saw a manifestation of this during the October 2019 uprising, in which over one million Lebanese took to the streets demanding the ouster of old guard elites.
The key to Nader’s proposal for saving Lebanon is the empowerment of two groups of Lebanese who until now have been forced to sit on the sidelines watching a country they love dying a slow death—hemorrhaging its people, wealth, and hope. The proposal provides the opportunity for Lebanese civil society to petition the UN and then vote on a referendum to write a new constitution. And the proposal engages the extraordinarily successful Lebanese emigre community by inviting them to help reform and rebuild the institutions of the country.
Even with such broad public support, upending entrenched interests will not be easy, but as Nader demonstrated in the last century, neither was fighting major US corporations, banks, and political lobbies. His proposal is a path that should be seriously discussed to spur a far-reaching debate about what it will take to save the country.
Some may dismiss it as radical. But because Lebanon is worth saving, radical ideas, as improbable as they may seem, demand to be tried, if only because all other options have failed.

ePaper - Nawaiwaqt