Last updated: April 29, 2013
Victor Argo: Asking for a storm in Tripoli

"The elite in Beirut has its calculations wrong. Seen from Beirut, Tripoli is not Lebanon"

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This article is a follow-up on Victor Argo's Meeting Tripoli – Lebanon's lost city.

The news from Tripoli are not good: a desperate economic situation; regular fights between rival factions right and left of Syria Street; and a population that feels left alone by the political elite in Beirut.

Indeed: Beirut seems to be Tripoli's biggest problem. With a political class mainly preoccupied with securing a seat at the top of the food chain, places outside the capital only get the leftovers. At best.

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In Tripoli, 60 people were killed and hundreds have been wounded in repeated rounds of violence in 2012 alone. Like pawns on a chessboard, militant figures were moved against each other, remotely controlled from Beirut, Damascus, or from even farther away.

European states were entangled in perennial warfare for centuries, making Europe a very insecure place. Only after the total devastation of World War II, a remedy to end the road to nowhere was found and put into effect. The Marshall Plan (officially called the European Recovery Plan) and the subsequent establishment of the European Union helped foster a stable and rich Europe. France and Germany, foes for life as it seemed, discovered mutual economic interests and will celebrate the 50th anniversary of their “Treaty of Friendship” (the Elysée Treaty) in the end of this month.

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Tripoli needs its own Marshall Plan. Possibilities in Tripoli are abundant, the potential is there but Tripoli must be allowed to attract foreign investors who mean real business. Tripoli must open its airport, for both goods and passengers, and come in touch with the world. Tripoli must start using the skills of its young people and its geography. Why not make Tripoli the center of a new initiative, which introduces renewable energy to Lebanon? The windy city can turn a thousand windmills!

However, the ever-looming danger of clashes seems to be most welcomed by the ruling elite in Beirut. They execute their political schemes on the backs of a deprived population. Trapped in an infinite loop, Tripoli keeps ending up as the self-fulfilling prophecy of a city not worthy of investment and development. A city that never would threaten to take away any of the sun that shines on Beirut.

Yet the elite in Beirut has its calculations wrong. Seen from Beirut, Tripoli is not Lebanon. Seen from Europe, and elsewhere, Lebanon is Tripoli. Instability in Tripoli casts a shadow all over Lebanon, keeps tourists away and slows down the economic activity in places that actually are safe. The impoverished north of Lebanon, which has created an environment conducive to radicalization and violence, drags down the country as a whole.

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Compared to the hustle in Beirut, Tripoli is relaxed, even laid back. However, there is a calm in Tripoli that asks for a storm. And after the storm, there will be floods. Lebanon is ill-prepared for this.

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