People took a stand
Hariri's assassination triggers a wave of anti-Syrian sentiment among Lebanese, culminating in the so-called ‘Cedar Revolution’, when tens of thousands of Lebanese demonstrated against the Syrian presence in the country. © Wiki Commons
People took a stand
Last updated: May 9, 2013

Outsourcing Lebanon – a country up for grabs

Banner Icon What does it mean to have your president agreed upon in Qatar, Prime Minister appointed directly after a visit to the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia and the Speaker of the Parliament holding his position for more than 20 years due to international balances of power?

This means that you are in Lebanon.

Lebanon is a weak and fragile state; many also claim it is a failed one. The country gained independence in 1943 and built its governmental institutions but never seemed to have crafted a national identity that bonds its people. Lebanon is composed of 18 different sects, sharing similar traditions and customs, but each having a different and sometimes conflicting social history.

Outsourcing Lebanon is the trend of engaging domestic, regional and international actors in the decision-making and executive process of the state institutions that should be done by the state alone. The Lebanese socio-political system is characterized by local leaders with regional and international dimensions simply because the sects living in Lebanon have international sponsors who share their spoils, fight their battles and proxy wars, and devise compromises over Lebanese land and blood.

Historical Background

Outsourcing is a very old Lebanese habit. Ever since the Ottoman rule, European countries intervened, on the request of the religious minorities in Lebanon, to protect them in exchange for social, economic and political privileges. Moreover, the majority of the Muslim populations aligned themselves blindly with the Ottoman Empire, based on religion as major factor. After the end of World War 2, and the aspirations of the Arabs to form their own nation, the Arab nationalists in Lebanon also aligned themselves with King Faisal of Hijaz (KSA today), and declared their sincere desire to join the union of Arab states and open the borders.

The majority of the Christians at that time demanded independence from the Arab ruling, but at the same time demanded direct protection and mandate from France. The latter did not disappoint them and then came Sykes – Picot and the Middle East area was divided between the French (Lebanon belonging to it) and the English mandate.

As paradoxical as it may sound, the trend of outsourcing Lebanon continued even after independence in 1943 and the building of its institutions. The Palestinian refugees entered Lebanon after their mass exodus due to the invasion of the Israeli gangs and the establishment of the state of Israel. The Palestinians however came in with their arms, and the Lebanese government outsourced the resistance in the south to them, in the infamous Cairo agreement. As a result, many factions were also training with the Palestinians, and acquired military experience. At the same time, right wing Christians were training to fight what they called the “Palestinian occupation”.

The state became weak; the civil war started and the protection of the different areas in Lebanon was no longer in the hands of the Lebanese state. Syria, the Arab League, Israel, USA and the international peace keeping force all had landed troops in Lebanon under international or regional mandates to "protect the civilians". Yet, they all drowned in the Lebanese quicksand.

Alliances changed throughout the war, which proved that ideological differences can be neglected for political and military urgencies. The Lebanese Front (right wing) after being overwhelmed by the power of the National Front (Lebanese left allied with the Palestinians) urged the Syrian forces to intervene for protection. The latter did not hesitate and entered Lebanon under the slogan of “Protecting the Christians”. The same Syrian forces became the number one enemy of the Christian right wing militias and political leaders later on, whom in turn decided to ally themselves with Israel for protection. The Lebanese left and the Palestinians became trustworthy allies for the Syrians, and that is how the civil war continued until its end.

Then came the agreement ending the 15-year war, also outsourced in the city of Taef (KSA). The implementation of this agreement was under the patronage and supervision of Syria, ensured by having more than 15,000 troops in Lebanon. After the civil war, the same domestic and regional factions that destroyed the state infrastructure and institutions decided to engage in building it again. However, this state reconstruction process was a cover up for the greatest takeover of Lebanon’s economy led by former Prime Minister Hariri and other sectarian/political leaders, whom had a pivotal role in funding different and sometimes opposing militias during the Lebanese civil war. That war resulted in the death of more than 170,000 persons, caused one million injuries (a quarter of the total population), 17,000 missing and more than 76,000 displaced people within the country.

These are just the direct casualties; the country also suffers from an alarming youth migration rate (40,000 person per year), and a devastated economy of over 65 billion dollars in debt. Hariri was the playmaker back then, assigning roles to each local party, and at the same time satisfying the regional balance between Syria and Saudi Arabia.

Abiding by this agreement, the majority of the Lebanese militias and factions surrendered their arms to the central state, and enrolled in the process of state building (again). Hezbollah kept its arms and was given the right informally to target Israel which occupied the majority of South Lebanon, while the rest shared the spoils of privatization, economic corruption and political proclamation of power. The system seemed to be functioning well, and everyone was satisfied expect the majority of the Christians (former right wing faction) whom had their leaders exiled or imprisoned.

In 1996, Hezbollah was officially given the legitimacy as a national resistance movement to fight Israel by what was known as the April agreement, after intense “shuttle diplomacy” visits that late Prime Minister Hariri did all over the world. This institutionalized Hezbollah’s act of arms in defending south Lebanon, instead of the Lebanese Army which was weak and incapable of doing so.

The death of the Playmaker

The outsourcing of resistance to Hezbollah and the outsourcing of the reconstruction of Lebanon to Hariri and Saudi companies continued until the year 2005. With the assassination of Hariri, the dealer was gone. Lebanese and non-Lebanese actors were lost in the chaos of the shock generated by this explosion and its ramifications. To add insult to injury, the Syrians withdrew from Lebanon in 2006, after serious local and international pressure, leaving the Lebanese political sphere without a Godfather. The influence of the west rose, as the governments that were formed allied with USA and KSA, facing Syria and Iran.

The 2006 war exposed different allegiances of the Lebanese local actors. As uncovered through the WikiLeaks cables, the March 14 camp was hoping that the war would crush Hezbollah’s military arsenal, marginalizing its role in Lebanese politics, and ultimately the role of Syria and Iran. This didn’t happen and Hezbollah came back stronger than ever, both on the military and the political level, which led to the show of force in 2008 where the latter took over Beirut in hours, after the political tensions reached a climax.

The Poker Table

The habit of outsourcing in Lebanon tells a story of a country that cannot be governed by its people, not because they don’t have the capacity and expertise to do so, but because the social and cultural fabric in Lebanon is very fragile and cannot produce national leaders whom govern freely. Domestic interests in Lebanon are determined by the interests of the different sects – all unable to disassociate themselves from regional and international influences.

Therefore, the Lebanese invite foreign intervention at their own free will; the Saudis will always have a say on internal politics and economy, the Iranians will continue to dominate Hezbollah, the US ambassador will continue its influence on the different pro-west politicians. The internal will of the Lebanese sects to seek international sponsors for protection, political and economic support is because state building in Lebanon preceded the process of the formation of a national identity, which makes Lebanon’s social fabric fundamentally unstable. Until a national identity is forged, the clash will continue in personifying itself with violent acts. Outsourcing will continue.

In other words, Lebanon is a giant poker table, with players (different regional and international actors) all betting on their cards (Lebanese parties and sects); some players go all in and lose, others win everything, but they all want to stay on the table until they can eliminate the rest.

Outsourcing is an old Lebanese habit, and old habits die hard.

For more on this theme, check out our hot topic The Lebanese Patchwork.

The views expressed in this article are the author's own and do not necessarily represent those of Your Middle East.

Ziad Naboulsi
Ziad Naboulsi is a Lebanese blogger and human rights activist living in Beirut. He works with civil and political rights and refugee issues for a human rights organization called Alef – act for Human Rights. The views expressed are his own. Read his blog
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