Tuesday, November 8, 2022

Dear Dr. Farid El Khazen, we need to talk

Artwork by Tarek Chemaly

There are in Lebanon two politicians of the same name, Farid El Khazen. Both hail from the same village in Kesserwan. To distinguish them the locals call them "Farid Elias" and "Farid Haykal" after their respective fathers' name. The former is originally an academic, the second is continuing his family's political history. I shall concentrate this article on Dr. El Khazen and specifically his book "Lebanon: The breakdown of the state 1967-1976" - 1976 being already a year into the war that would end in 1990 or what we call "the great war" as there were many other mini-wars after it in Lebanon.

In 2005, I met with Dr. El Khazen in a social function. At the time he was an MP in Lebanon representing the Free Patriotic Movement (please do glance at his Wikipedia entry here), and I asked him if we are - again - at the breakdown of the state. And he point blank answered "no".

I wish I can speak to him once more and ask him the same question, because at this stage, I do feel his answer might be different. Are we at the breakdown of the Lebanese state - again? I believe we are. The public sector is barely functioning, their salaries are a pittance. However increasing those salaries, will require printing more money, and printing more money will increase the already through-the-roof inflation, which means their salaries will go back to being a pittance because goods are too expensive to buy (and at this point am talking basic goods).

We have at this point no president of the republic since General Aoun's term finished at the end of last month, our caretaker government has been hanging by a thread (a new government should have  been formed back in May immediately after the new parliamentary elections but in Lebanon the process takes ages, and the government became a de facto caretaker since then). The armed forces, like the rest of the public sector, are now earning barely anything despite some "financial reinforcements" that came from the US at some point to encourage personnel to keep attending their positions.

Oh and the "oil and gas" thing? Well this years and years down the line. Right now this is just a fallacy, a dream. The education system, which already was under immense pressure - and here I am speaking of the official educational system with the Lebanese University included - is now in complete tatters with the pandemic and all other factors only increasing the stress on is fragile structure.

If I am writing all of this it's because I feel all this is a repeat (as a tragedy or farce to go back to the Karl Marx quote, I know not) of the dreadful experience that Dr. El Khazen has spoken of in his book. The shape of the Lebanon that will come from this experience is still unknown. I mentioned this quote prior (here and here as examples) but Russian writer Alexander Heren did say "the departing world leaves behind it not an heir, but a pregnant widow".

As I write these lines there is still no expected delivery date.