It is almost as if Lebanon is cursed. The horrifying explosion at the city’s port seems a cosmic slap in the face, a blow when the country is at its lowest. The prime minister has quit; ditto the rest of his Cabinet. The Lebanese pound has lost 60 percent of its value in the last 10 months (and 80 percent of its black market value). The IMF is refusing to lend the COVID stricken economy much needed cash because of corruption. The country is ruled by terrorist group Hezbollah, which, apart from its manifest faults, is now also being pressed by Iran to attack Israel. And that’s just this year. Years past whipsawed the Lebanese from civil war to war with Israel, terrorism, and kidnapping, to Syrian and Iranian vassal state.
But what this narrative leaves unstated is that much of Lebanon’s fate is its own making, or at the very least, the making of an irretrievably corrupt elite, tolerated—and too often abetted—by a population that knows no other form of governance. The Beirut port tragedy is only the latest display of staggering corruption and incompetence: Was gross negligence behind the port disaster? Or was it a Hezbollah bomb supply depot? The world will likely never know, as Hezbollah is resisting an international inquiry. But it is almost certain that this tragedy, like the many before it, is the product of the corruption, venality and incompetence that has brought the “Paris of the Middle East” to its knees. Indeed, at every twist in Lebanon’s fate, there has always been a seemingly inexhaustible supply of feckless leaders and the various foreign despots to whom they have turned for favor. All have conspired to destroy the nation.
Gauzy memories of the halcyon years before Lebanon’s civil war broke out in 1975 are mostly false, but the decades that followed were certainly worse. In theory, the national pact of 1943 that divided the spoils of leadership among Lebanon’s Christian, Sunni, and Shiite populations might have sustained a unique experiment in sectarian and religious harmony in the Middle East. In reality, it cemented into place the patronage and corruption that have reached their apex in 21st century Lebanon.
Quibbles over leadership and rank mismanagement of Lebanon’s growing Palestinian refugee population—and the attendant Palestine Liberation Organization (PLO) terrorists that treated the nation as their own—led first to the creation of militias intended to suppress the proliferation of Palestinian militias; and then to the fateful moment when the then-president invited in the Syrians to keep the peace. In a Faustian bargain the likes of which Goethe could not have imagined, the nation was to become a playground for Syrian dictator Hafez al Assad, his terrorist proteges, and his Iranian patrons.