Tuesday, February 23, 2021

Toblerone: The Swedes were so lucky, we as Lebanese were not.

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

I have been twice to Sweden on two long travels (41 days in 2001 and 23 days in 2008 - both on courses sponsored by the Swedish International Development Agency). At the end of the second course about "Democracy and Journalism in the Middle East", I was sitting with some of our Swedish trainers and someone said "you know Tarek, we've been lucky here in Sweden, for the last 30 years we really had some very honest politicians".

And in case you thought they were joking, you should hear about the "Toblerone gate", when in 1995, Mona Sahlin (who was the first candidate in line to replace the resigning prime minister Ingvar Carlsson) was discovered to have used her governmental credit card to buy chocolate with. All right, granted, it turns out she also did other things with the card - see here for the full list - but it was buying Toblerone that got the scales tipped.

Toblerone. Really.

Which is why I believe my Swedish colleagues about what they said.

We, in Lebanon, have not been so lucky.

And to be honest, not just the politicians. The average Joe is just a culprit as anyone else. Because, and I have said this many times prior, corruption is not a one sided affair. It implicates more than one person. We have been cursed by a combination of crooked politicians but also by people who follow them, and the slogan everyone spit out on October 17 2019, "kellon ya3ne kellon" (everyone means everyone) basically meant "except the guy I follow myself". But we are now so far removed from that time - with the economy in total free fall and the Dollar in major upswing state versus the Lebanese Pound.

I heard it from several analysts that we are on the brink of something "new", than an intervention right now could sway the odds and the scales. Well-meaning people, am sure, but also - truth be told - that whole "NGO" and foreign people participating in the "thawra" uprising left a very bitter taste for many (see here).

But still, where do we go from here? We have proved incapable of governing ourselves, and any outside intervention is seen as a "breach to our independence" (what independence? The one we earned in 1943 with one person dead? - his name is Saeed Fekhreddine). It is completely disheartening to write this, but Lebanon has not exactly proved to be a "state" - and please, can you all stop with the "golden age" thing? People seem to be reminiscent about a past that never was (again, see here). To be honest, people in Lebanon seem to be reminiscent about anything called "past", the other day I saw people giving praise to the days of the 1975-1990 war on a post on Instagram. And it infuriated me beyond measure as am sure no one wants to go back to days of fighting and damp shelters and greenline between two Beiruts and being refugees in their own land or outside of it.

Actually, I have recently been digging in old newspapers, and it seemed miraculous for me the war did not start earlier. Lebanon was on the brink of war as far back as 1958! And even then this did not come out of nowhere - once more any reading of newspaper headlines tells you it was not just going to happen, but was almost happening as is - while the fallacy of the supposed golden age stresses swanky hotels, and "Switzerland of the Middle East" and water skiing by the St. George bay, and locals used as props for international consumption in leaflets and promotional films and press materials.

But all of this is to tell you that we failed. As a state, and as people who have no concept on how to be citizens. 

Great, now I want Toblerone. I swear I will pay for it myself - not that I have any government card or anything anyhow.