Analysis of the current situation in Lebanon in global and historical context.
An overview regarding news of Lebanese unrest in global context.
Lebanon grapples with its worst economic crisis since the civil war. The ruling elite both as appearing from evidence in media and decree of international organizations seems to be stuck in ties of monetary gain and international kelptocratic business. Then having potentially lost full self-determination as of political domestic and international pressures, and because of their own mismanagement especially directly and indirectly regarding the nation’s banking system. The elite claims power based on a delicate balance of religious groups – inherited from the deliberations of foreign powers – while the nation itself seems united enough across any religious differences in demands for better societal conditions and ways of living. This unity demands honest ruling systems and healthier distribution of wealth in the country. There are some possible outcomes either related to violence or redistribution of wealth. Violence has begun to break out as security forces have been directed against protesters in the country, while the elite is not crushing down as they possibly could as with military force. Currently it appears that it is unlikely that the rulers can meet the protesting public’s demands for the creation of a more “normative democracy” instead of the very special sectarian system that is installed. Due to these factors violence can escalate. The Lebanese situation showcases historic global difficulties and international influences.
Some in the north of the globe may have first heard of Beirut in their youth while watching TV; learning about “heroic” war journalists as John MacCarthy and Robert Fisk trying to describe events as serious as the siege of the city. The civil war lasted long from 1975 – 1990. After the civil war Syria assumed a type of guardianship over the country only to move out as recently as in 2005. Obviously Syria has currently been thrashed down by a raw war and is not in any position to raise Lebanon. Iran and Israel as neighbors have Hezbollah between them in Lebanon the “most heavily armed non-state actor in the world”, that has increased in strength via participation in the recent war in Syria. Currently Iran is “working over-time” to turn so called dumb missiles into smart ones, and Israel works hard at developing and maintaining their missile defenses. ”Iran and Israel have been playing a quiet game of chess across the Middle East – difficult for the casual observer to discern but punctuated by the periodic explosion”.
Now current news do not bring the same exact feelings of a hopeless civil war, yet instill a sense of dire urgency starting from last October with events being tagged as the “October revolution”. The failing economy with news of the government intending to increase taxes lead to riots in protest of corruption in the ruling classes and mismanagement. The first person has already been shot. If this is taken into context of added tensions between Iran and Israel, or taking into consideration that there are also claims that other foreign powers or superpowers are pressing for what might lead to war it is obvious that many people could potentially end up in crossfire.
After the civil war the Lebanese maintained politics cast in terms of a type of balance of political religious denominations. This was done with a national pact that served to maintain power check on different groups in the country in a way considered harmonious with the interests of foreign powers in the Middle East as those of Britain and France. “Although the agreement was congruent with the interests and political ambitions of the elite, it did not necessarily reflect the perceptions, concerns, and communal priorities of the people”. The current politicians point to that said balance as being so delicate as enforcing them to have to be in power. While the public expresses that the entire political class is corrupt and has less than Godly aims in its operations and demands change:
The Lebanese nation is calling for a revisiting of democracy and freedoms from economic difficulty. It is stated repeatedly that the public is very united in calling forth new governance with fresh actors and a secular state, while those who are opposing the protestors aim to highlight religious differences to maintain power balance tensions.
The governors have with their actions admitted guilt and shown in some way how willing they are to keep power: “The scale of the protests appears to have taken the government completely by surprise. In an attempt to quell the protests, Saad Hariri, Lebanon’s former prime minister has resigned while just before his resignation he announced a package of reform measures. The measures included cutting the salaries of top officials, and abolishing several state institutions and requirements on the Lebanese banks to pay a onetime tariff.“ Those actions still have been far from sufficient to instill confidence in the public, neither has a proposal for a new Prime Minister Hassan Diab. Protesters have been in fury especially after the President of the country stated in an interview that if people didn’t like the situation they could move from the country: “In a televised interview on Tuesday evening, Mr Aoun said that “if people aren’t satisfied with any of the decent leaders let them emigrate””.
The situation of the people:
An elder gentleman is quoted in media saying: “There are no social services, no pension….if I don’t work I don’t eat”.
The images and ideas that come to mind reflect motives from history as those regarding the French Revolution and sayings as “pride leads to downfall”. When the situation has become intolerable for the majority of all the public – the ruling elites may fear for their lives, if not only because of the public then because of the local geopolitical instability and the possibility for a war in the region. The Foundation for Defense of Democracies goes as far as stating now on the 19th of December that Iran wants conflict and is strengthening itself to be able to pursue it. Further in The Grayzone last December 11th a strong statement is made as to that through “parties” the U.S. supports it has infiltrated the protests to push the country toward war or to amp up the pressure on Hezbollah.
Is there a possible solution for the elites to save their lives or position as the situation is so contentious?
Can they have the courage to give? The courage to read the times right and give up the majority of their wealth and control? Is this possibly a global problem for political elites? How much can they give up to maintain what they can have? Or is it even remotely possible that the elite or parts of it have interest in escalation of instability in the country?
As will be shown the elites are the ones who can exert force via means that are state legitimized. They still have some power to shift things around.
In this article when the term elites is used it applies indiscriminately regarding those in political power in Lebanon without considering the ethics of individual actors. Also it applies to political and business spearheads internationally where the global situation is brought up or international cases.
What is leadership? On what does privilege and responsibility stand?
In the U.S. some of the super-rich are preparing for a dooms day scenario – perhaps they have bad conscience driving them, or a better knowledge of the state of financial markets than many; who knows? While it seems that often they engage in escapism rather than facing the downcast and helping them out. An article published in the New Yorker in January 2017 paints such a picture. It is named “Doomsday Prep For The Super Rich”. According to the descriptions one would think that in many places the situation is easier in the U.S. than in Lebanon. What does all of this tell us? And what about the protests in France?
A recent Aljazeera article “Civil unrest around the world is impacting the financial markets”in a simple way shows the global scale. In an article on the World Economic forum’s web it is stated: “Most aid organizations are still not focused on the role of elites in perpetuating a violent status quo. Part of the reason is because it is too “political” and could quickly get them into trouble. “
The nation state as an entity seems everywhere to be failing at granting the majority of its citizens hope, drive and a worthwhile future. Even in countries formerly considered affluent, as the U.S., the average citizen may feel that “the system” is “rigged against them”. 
The fall of the nation state?
“Why is this happening? In brief, 20th-century political structures are drowning in a 21st-century ocean of deregulated finance, autonomous technology, religious militancy and great-power rivalry. Meanwhile, the suppressed consequences of 20th-century recklessness in the once-colonised world are erupting, cracking nations into fragments and forcing populations into post-national solidarities: roving tribal militias, ethnic and religious sub-states and super-states. Finally, the old superpowers’ demolition of old ideas of international society – ideas of the “society of nations” that were essential to the way the new world order was envisioned after 1918 – has turned the nation-state system into a lawless gangland; and this is now producing a nihilistic backlash from the ones who have been most terrorised and despoiled.”
The above quotation is very descriptive and comes from a 2018 article written by Rana Dasgupta in The Guardian.
Large corporations have become supranational entities – and they often intimately involve politicians even in kleptocratic ties.
For years people have asked questions such as “Are Companies More Powerful than Countries?”, “Who’s in control – Nation States or Global Corporations?”, “Are Multinationals Eclipsing Nation-States?” and pondered thoughts as “taking back sovereignty from multinationals will require international cooperation”. We can further ask, what is the character of the individual persons involved? Given that managers, gangsters, civilians, employees and employers, and politicians are all people and many with multiple roles and engaging in various social networks.
Explanations regarding corporate pressure on states and politics come up as: “while multinationals.[…]..have emerged as a global political force in their own right, the loss of authority among nation-states is due to a combination of factors, including faltering GDP growth, record-level public debt, increasingly polarised politics, and legislative paralysis.“…or…“In the pursuit of narrow corporate objectives and strategies, a relatively small number of these enterprises have achieved such a command over global resources, and with it such an impact on the international economy, as to raise serious doubts about the long term survival of the nation state as a form of political organization.“
Regarding internationally operating business with high local influence banking comes into focus as a chief catalyst.
The international state of governments in continued state of kleptocracy:
Articles describing the prevalent situation of seemingly all world-wide governments being connected with one form of kleptocracy or another abound. It is a central tenant that ongoing kleptocracy world-wide promotes civil unrest and violent extremism, robbing the citizens of their dignity are described by the knowledgeable such as Sarah Chayes foreign policy expert and author of the book “Thieves of State”. She is quoted in an interview saying “I think the West has lost the balance between rectitude and liberty. We’ve gone off the charts on liberty, especially liberty that is enjoyed differentially. In other words, if you have money, you’re free, and if you don’t, you’re not.” She further states “we have to change…framing, to understand that in some countries, the government is not a government that may be failing. It’s a criminal organization that’s succeeding.”
The world-wide situation can easily be gleaned from articles in international media as “American Kleptocrats Finally Feel The Heat”,”Congress Wakes Up, Finally Decides to Tackle Kleptocracy”and “The West Is Open For Dirty Business”. A research article published in African Affairs in 2014 elucidated how kleptocracy created civil war in South Sudan. It is titled: “When kleptocracy becomes insolvent: Brute causes of the civil war in South Sudan”.
Kleptocracy has often felt as the most adapt description even of supposed to be prime examples of democracies. Even those respecting gender equality and best business practices as in the case of Iceland, with Icelandic politics being kleptocratic in the eyes of the average Icelander and many others. Michael Hudson economist and Research Professor at the University of Missouri has for instance written about the case of kleptocracy in Iceland.  Stories of privatization to friends and families abound, globally, as exemplified now in the Namibian-Icelandic fishing scandal. Perhaps such truths give many a feeling of vulnerability, helplessness and lack of hope for a better future. Those who can muster anger that then may lead to riots in the streets. But what instruments of change work? Does violence?!
The research of elites internationally – The situation of the governing powers – The powers that often can utilize legitimized or partially legitimized force:
Classically the elites have been under-scrutinized. Perhaps they themselves have rather felt entitled to study others – as was the case when Western anthropologists went to the wilderness to research the bushmen.
Nevertheless, anthropological research has sprung up regarding the elites and some of the elite have become more critical of even their own social structure and conventions. Anthropologists consider that they have a need “to shift our focus from the poor, program beneficiaries and / or their representatives and instead concentrate on the powerful … we need to look beyond our usual focus on the poor and their (claimed) representatives, and ask who or what is key to effective change.”
Popular culture has also aimed to look at how elites operate, both regarding good and bad. A recent example to mention is the movie Vice that portrayed a story of Dick Cheney and was shocking to many. The author of this article remembers seeing it; thinking if this was not “true” the producers would have been sued to be made penniless. The gripping horrors of political distance and actual local effects were so portrayed as it had to be done through humor. For added discussion on that which pertains also to events of the Middle East in light of the movie it is possible to read an article of the Independent written by Andrew Buncombe published on January 30th 2019 titled: “Vice doesn’t get it right – Dick Cheney was a much scarier vice president than that”.
Most likely politicians in the Middle East including in Lebanon need to consider all types of potential terrors such as those regarding being on the potential receiving end of all sorts of violence as portrayed in various Hollywood films and worse.
International and domestic verification of corruption amongst the elite in Lebanon:
The World Bank Group issued a systematic country diagnostic in 2016 named “Lebanon – Promoting Poverty Reduction and Shared Prosperity” the report posits that at the root of Lebanon’s failure is two main factors:
“(a) Elite capture hidden behind the vail of confessionalism and confessional governance and (b) conflict and violence”. Further there it is stated that “illegal activities are not sanctioned by the state when they involve politically or confessionally connected or wealthy actors”.
Another published article on “public-private entanglement” in Lebanon from 2016 states:
„A hybrid political order channels entrepreneurial talent into lobbying and bribery. The key constraint that emerges from the hybrid political order in this case is the corrupt organisation of governance…this results in higher prices (because bribes…have to be earned back) in entrenchment of oligopolies, because contracts often come with political protection.“
Transparency international maintains: ”Political parties, public administration, the Parliament and the police are perceived as the most corrupt institutions of the country.“
The Lebanese Transparency Association states “Immediate and Urgent Anti-Corruption Measures Are Needed in Lebanon”.
Beirut Today has published exclamations of a recognized economist in the country and simultaneously one of the paper’s owners Jad Chaaban regarding the situation. For instance last April the 23rd, 2019 when the economist highlighted that the government in the country had not for twelve years between 2005 and 2017 had any official budget. He points out that in March 2019 a five billion loan had been approved without any apparent budgeting and that there are substantive fiscal implications and degradation due to nepotism.
Currently the situation in Lebanon is considered so dire and serious that the annual meeting of Transparency International saw it fit to issue a special call last November regarding corruption in the country: Condemning that the Lebanese government has intended to put a law giving amnesty for corruption through the official channels.
In the Washington Post an article from last October states: “The benefits of unsustainable government borrowing has fed a narrow class of elites without addressing growing poverty, while the tax system further entrenched inequality.“
Less flattering quotes are also abundantly found:
“Lebanon’s main political parties are run by civil war-era warlords who have exploited a dysfunctional system to make themselves billionaires. They and their children flaunt their wealth in the streets and on social media.“
Is it greed?
Psychologists are already working on the greed addiction and writing about it as in Psychology Today.Yet the efforts still seem to be marginal or emerging and those who need the help the most are least likely to go get it as is the flinging alcoholic in denial. We still cannot tell what exactly has been going on with the elite in Lebanon.
Do politicians grow numb?
They Lebanese politicians may potentially have grown numb as people can do when they experience excessive anxiety, and “may also experience emotional numbness as a response to extremely high-stress levels, fear reactions, or excessive worry. Not to mention effects of more than a decade long civil war, or being potentially caught in possible crossfires as mentioned above.
In fact such stressors can create an avoidance of both positive and negative emotions with escalating levels of anxiety“, being in such a state of tension leads to potential lacks in empathy and lacks in decision making ability. Politics and political process cause stress even among civilians who are not directly working at them; likely they involve higher stressors for those directly participating. Due to all the heavy stressors involved internationally or globally people who have sociopathic tendencies even up to psychopathic are generally considered to better thrive in politics than the average citizen:
“…shown that disorder may confer certain advantages that make psychopaths particularly suited to a life on the public stage and able to handle high-pressure situations: psychopaths score low on measures of stress reactivity, anxiety and depression, and high on measures of competitive achievement, positive impressions on first encounters, and fearlessness.”
From this we can deduct that possibly in many cases politicians everywhere and not only in Lebanon can easily succumb to numbness through stress or already have challenges with empathy leading to decision making not benefiting the whole population. Can it be that politicians globally turn to greed as an addiction to “soften the stressors”, or are on the take out of fear, or so that they can be comfortable about operating in heartless ways, or even criminally because of already existing emotional handicaps? Greed as an addiction is hard to check in on when wealth seemingly is considered the perfect reward. Lack of emotional health and empathy skills are areas to investigate further among elites, as is greed addiction.
Some anthropologists are opening up the way in attending to research on elites and especially politics. One of them is Emma Crewe who has researched and written about politicians with their rituals and customs; working on governance and identity in politics. Also there is the work of Janine R. Wedel as in her book “Shadow Elites”. Her newest book “Unaccountable” was described by the Financial Times as “a clarion call against some insidious threats to a healthy democracy”. What Professor Janine Wedel points out is that there are actors in society who can be politicians sometimes, all the time, or not, who may be connected to politics directly or indirectly and corporations simultaneously. These actors can shift roles and exert power upon people in ways that are antagonistic regarding their publicly apparent roles and responsibilities: “professional class of movers and shakers-people who serve overlapping roles in government, business, and media“
That is sometimes in daily talk called being both on the giving and receiving end of things.
Can we have healthy democracies? Hopefully not all the anthropologists uncover is corruption? What is the standard and what is accepted and who is in charge? The public protesters in Lebanon state that they have had enough of corruption and that is why there are riots currently demanding system changes.
“…We can’t ignore what the social theorist Slavoj Zizek calls “systemic violence,” the use of coercion and threats of violence by the powerful to control and intimidate the lower orders.“ According to political theorist Benjamin Ginsberg politics is a power factually based upon actual or potential violence. His view is that violence works; as regards statehood, territoriality and power.  Actually the modern Lebanese nation state has been in violent turmoil for seems like forever its borders where drawn up by Western conquering powers after the First World War. Battles had been seemingly fought incessantly there before now and politics seem enshrined in blood as exemplified by war, war crimes, death of civilians and assassinations of political spearheads as: Kamal Fouad Joumblatt (’77), Bachir Gemayel (’82), Rashid Karami (’87), René Moawad (’89). A string of political assassinations including nine politicians, two journalists, and three security officials then occurred as recently as between 2004 and 2008 leaving totally 58 dead and over 300 wounded in connection to the specific events.
On violence as an organization factor of a society:
In an online discussion thread interesting remarks regarding the Icelandic classic Njál´s Saga having violence as its crux theme were apparent. The remarks are interesting in view of social structure and social mobility and ring true. Actually for those who haven’t read Njál’s Saga it is recommended as a view into social structure deeply connected to violence and the cost of violence. The Viking ancestors of the author of this article you are now reading were recognized warriors but also farmers and traders. Why did they settle in an island in the middle of the Atlantic? How come they turned relatively peaceful? Surely the ocean and harsh nature helped with that. The cost of maintaining violence became too great. Also Christianity with its values as forgiveness vs. blood vengeance and emphasis changed the nation. Perhaps such a change with Christianity is easier for islanders than those living in the Middle East? The effects and results of vengeance can be seen over and over in history as in the events initiating the so called First World-War. Some of the Vikings as Aud The Deep-Minded (a famous historical character) were already Christian as settlers and had perhaps seen enough violence.Yet, as some or most of the Vikings had encountered Christianity as warriors as for instance when mercenaries in the Varangian Guard such a shift towards peace was gradual. If violence had continually been the best policy it would have been universally maintained. The teaching of forgiveness, and an afterlife that did not require dying in battle for the most glory was important for the Vikings. The mystery of the Christian effects on the Vikings are connected to the Middle East and even countries as Armenia where from the influence emerged.Perhaps there is still a hope that the inhabitants of Lebanon can draw more strength from their higher religious ideals? Rather than in some measure possibly using religious differences as an excuse for extorting the public as the World Bank indicates is the case in the above cited report?
This relates to the current Lebanese situation where the government claims power based on the balance of different religious groups. In Iceland at 1000 AD the Christian faith was taken by an act of mediation as the single custom for Iceland – this was a method at the time to maintain and tie-in peace. “That one law and one custom” could be kept.  When conflict between “pagans” and Christians threated to erupt between Icelanders in the year 1000 they selected the heathen law-speaker to make a decision for the nation. He went on a type of a “shamanic” vision quest and then:
“Þorgeir announced his plan. Henceforth, all Icelanders should be baptized and be Christian. Heathen sacrifice and worship could continue secretly, if desired, but would be penalized if witnesses came forward. Some heathen practices could continue in public. It was a clever compromise. It meant that outdoors, everyone had to practice the Christian faith, but indoors, where there were no witnesses, people could practice whatever faith they preferred. It seems likely that neither side was satisfied, but both sides agreed to the compromise. The desire to maintain the law [peace] outweighed other considerations.“
This shows by historical example that the concerns of the ruling elite in Lebanon can have some factual basis. That with customs / religion that doesn’t match conflict can occur. This also shows the high value the Vikings at that time gave to peace which they had not done previously in the same way. Another thing can be gleaned from this historical example, that an initiative of the ruling class can prevent civil war!
At least for quite some time. In Iceland the last serious civil war or strife happened in the age of Sturlungar approximately between 1220’s – 1260’s when the Icelandic chieftains fought for control of the country driven on in their struggle by the Norwegian King. This waring lead to that Iceland lost it’s independence and did not regain it until 1944. Thankfully though the history of the country in those years since the 1260’s have been without domestic war.
How economic disparity can promote civil unrest:
Global corporations (called different names as multi-nationals, global enterprises and so on) have become so big and mighty as to have more power than many nation states. One way to show that is to state that out of the 100 richest economic systems in the world app. 69 are corporations. Their force is political in as it pertains to people, employment and natural resources.
In spite of this, “the corporation has yet to emerge as a broadly accepted and systematically analysed object of research in international politics“, although individual actors have been somewhat scrutinized as in the genre of political biographies.
We have looked at research on elites and see that the lines are blurry. The politicians can have corporate connections and interests especially when connected to resource rich regions or the extraction of natural resources. Corporations are with very few exceptions not democracies. Hence individuals that are in power can easily have tremendous influence with their decision making.
The above quoted research of Janine R. Wedel shows that businesses and political institutions can also if not all the more consciously run with aims towards attending to the livelihoods of people around them, turn into instruments that promote kleptocracy and are highly connected with it! Any partially true rhetoric can be used to justify the situation.
Global corporations and banks are part of the potential pressures that can create unbalance in societies in terms of wealth distribution and influence especially when tied in with kleptocracy leading to civil unrest and perhaps civil wars or other wars. The situation of the resource rich South Sudan can be a case in point there, as could the case of Congo. Another example is perhaps emerging in Lebanon right now regarding the nation’s banking system. That example can again relate to Iceland which had a nation-wide bank system collapse in 2008.
On the banks in Lebanon:
Lebanon is facing a bank system crisis as the economy falters. The country suffers ongoing deficits.
It is pointed out in various global media that there is extreme concentration of wealth with rather few people in the country, making for large income disparity. It seems the banks in Lebanon have been sustaining artificially high interest rates compared to the economic value produced by the Lebanese economy as seen on sustained interest rates in connection to the national and global economic indicators.
The Lebanese Central bank has now in December issued a statement mandating a cap on interest on Lebanese pounds of 8,5%. In a world where negative interest rates are becoming ever more common. This seems out of all bonds, “high interest rates on deposits in Lebanon’s banks have stunted investment in a real economy”. A further signifier of the situation is that “about 1 percent of all accounts are estimated to hold roughly half the deposits.” And that the political class is ascribed as owning more than 40% of bank assets.
“The extent to which local commercial banks are linked to the country’s political class…impacts their efficiency and sovereign risk exposure… 18 out of 20 major commercial banks have major shareholders linked to political elites and 43% of assets in the sector could be attributed to political control”.
Currently the banks of the country are in danger of rundowns. Billions have been withdrawn since last September.“Residents line up for U.S. dollars at banks, but find few”. Banks have been closed for some days during the riots in Beirut. Further the banks have been shutting down on foreign exchange with strict restrictions.
This month an opinion article appeared in the New York Times titled starkly: “The Great Lebanese Ponzi Scheme”. In the article it is described that individual enrichment has been achieved through increased public debt with one major method being using the whole banking system of the country. The consulting house Thinktriangle in Lebanon would agree having published a working paper named “Extend and pretend: Lebanon’s financial house of cards” wherein it is described how “Lebanon’s politicians and banks construed a regulated Ponzi scheme that ran the country’s economy to the ground”.
The banks, as mentioned, have sustained artificially high interest rates for the economy in light of the countries economical production and exports, along with pressures coming from keeping a fixed exchange rate with the U.S. dollar. The Central bank can no longer produce the interest it has promised the commercial banks of the country.In fact it is estimated that the Central bank was providing the commercial banks with at least around 5% interest on USD even some estimates go as far as 8%, while the US treasury provides between 1,5% and 2,4% for the same money. The Central bank in Lebanon does not publish financial data that would according to the Thinktriangle group allow Lebanese citizens to understand the country’s financial position.
The country is on the brink of a banking system collapse similar to that Iceland experienced in 2008. The Fitch agency has already warned of a default stating that the local currency is absolutely caving in to dollarization, public debt is tremendous, with obvious political uncertainty and severely diminished currency inflows. The Lebanese government seems already to have contacted the IMF, while the Central Bank’s currency reserves still provide a buffer. News seem fantastical with the some of the latest being that “the central bank last week said it was allowing banks to borrow dollars without limits at 20% interest to secure depositors’ needs on condition the funds were not sent abroad.“Further, that the Lebanese banks have been asked by the country’s current rulers to provide $3,4 billion to resolve the current crisis.
Examples and learning from history:
Corporations have become large socioeconomic actors in their own rights some of them with revenue surpassing those of many nations.Numbers from 2018 show 71 firms at the top of the 100 largest revenue generators in the world, the others are countries.These companies can exert pressures on politicians or the politicians can have direct or indirect ownership or other participatory investment financial or otherwise in such corporations. Then they may even exert pressure as individuals. If so at times putting the politicians at odds with best interest of the citizens they are guardians of. Most corporations are not democracies. The pressures exerted on society by them can by very undemocratic.
Politics as business?
“Business as politics” and “politics as business” has been seen before in history as in the famous case of the Dutch East India Company that operated “at a huge moral cost”, and had a reign of terror for many people as was the British East India Company that became an aggressive colonial power. Both companies exerted their own militia. The East India Company literally had its own army. The modern cases of potential classes between “business” and “states” may not always be as blatantly obvious but they are there.
“The British state, alerted to the dangers posed by corporate greed and incompetence, successfully tamed history’s most voracious corporation.“
Both East Indian Companies in the end shared a similar fate. Their property being nationalized or confiscated as they and their rulers posed a power threat to the state powers.
The managers of those companies had been “politicians” operating from another base than direct legitimization by nationhood while still contingent somewhat upon the legitimization of the state via its actors and owners; many of which were actual politicians in office in their nations.
“The 300-year-old question of how to cope with the power and perils of large multinational corporations remains today without a clear answer: it is not clear how a nation state can adequately protect itself and its citizens from corporate excess. As the international subprime bubble and bank collapses of 2007-2009 have so recently demonstrated, just as corporations can shape the destiny of nations, they can also drag down their economies. In all, US and European banks lost more than $1tn on toxic assets from January 2007 to September 2009. What Burke feared the East India Company would do to England in 1772 actually happened to Iceland in 2008-11, when the systemic collapse of all three of the country’s major privately owned commercial banks brought the country to the brink of complete bankruptcy. A powerful corporation can still overwhelm or subvert a state every bit as effectively as the East India Company did in Bengal in 1765.“
The above very important quote should show how companies are intimately connected to political realities and wealth – especially banks. It reminds us that also single individuals both as political and corporate actors can indeed “overwhelm or subvert” a state such as Lebanon effectively because of any number of reasons ranging from intentional behavior or pressures of circumstance, towards unintentional character issues that can also have an effect such as underdeveloped personal faculties, lack of awareness, and other factors as narrow self-interest or lack of empathy.
This example pertains to the delicate connection of business, finance, politics and individual actors that have various influences and networks connected to all these.
Also of interest is that if a group of people starts to appear very powerful within a state – even as a “state within a state” as Hezbollah has been tagged it risks creating counter measures of other groups or countries. Such is the state of Hezbollah which holds considerable power within Lebanon and also has its own militia, and is locked in hostilities regarding Israel and support that may have its own conditions from Iran.The increased strength of Hezbollah’s militia draws attention both from Israel and the USA, as well as the whole international community in light of Iranian politics and actions. This makes it harder for Lebanon to be considered independently as an individual unit and a nation state.
In modern Lebanese territory and surrounding countries the aims of foreign governments having immense activity and influence have been apparent in the region. Historically, as for instance the U.S. and British, not to mention the French that have been intimately linked with natural resources and economic systems of the Middle East. One such government having local influence mainly through the Hezbollah may as indicated be Iran. The Middle East Transparent goes as far as to state:
“In fact, the leader of the powerful Lebanese party Hezbollah publicly acknowledges that its ideological, political, and military existence is subservient to the Supreme Leader of Iran. No country can remain stable or prosper if its major political and military decisions are controlled by a foreign or illegal power.”
Israel continues to consider Hezbollah a threat.Hezbollah’s military wing has been strengthened after entering the war in Syria working with Assad’s forces and Iran. “Israel has vowed to not let Iran and Hezbollah create a permanent presence in Syria. There is growing concern of another war between Hezbollah and Israel that could draw in Iran.”Currently Hezbollah is being criticized in Lebanon for not having brought any solutions to the economic difficulties and mismanagement in Lebanon and for seemingly having been pushing against the ongoing protests of the public.
A history of conflict:
In more ancient times what is now Lebanon became a part of the Byzantine Empire then seemingly changed out by what became the Sasanian Empire. The Byzantine Empire being Christian while the Sasanian was multi religious with an emphasis on Zoroastrianism with apparent peaceful coexistence with other religions as Christianity and Judaism until Christianity became the official religion of the Roman Empire making Christians special subject to violence.The Muslim conquest of Persia did away with the Sasanian Empire. Much later or 1516 the Ottoman Empire made a conquest of Lebanon. In the area in the years around 1860 religious tensions rose with continued power struggles and fighting. The French Napoleon who at times considered himself in cooperation with the Ottoman took it upon himself to send seven thousand troops into then that part of the Ottoman Empire to keep peace between Christians and Muslims in the region. Later the French influence continued after the League of Nations made a mandate for the French to be “custodians” of what is now Lebanon and Syria until the “nations could stand on their own” and perhaps understandably not to the liking of many of those who were naturally living in the habitat. While the French claimed to be protectors of the Christian minority in the region, the French purposefully fragmented the region perhaps to have power there or at least not a threat.
This historical overview should provide an insight into how easy it can be to have immense confusion regarding the Middle East and Lebanon. Nevertheless the current local populations seem less concerned about the history and religious differences than pressing economic realities and kleptocracy. The ruling elites may be stuck in the middle of money, religion, international corporations and governments not perhaps having as much free will as one would initially think. What might their self-determination be, considering their circumstances? How can they been approached?
A few wealthy people through history as Andrew Carnegie and the almost mythological Salladin [Salah ad-Din] seem to have realized that wealth disparity tips the boat and disintegrates society as typically exemplified in what happened in France leading to the French Revolution. Andrew was one of the wealthiest men on the planet and in his later years gave ninety percent of his wealth; still having plenty. He wrote a manifesto named “The Gospel of Wealth” it’s purpose was to warn others as fortunate as himself of the dangers of wealth disparity. Salladin is rumored to have given immense treasures upon his imminent death. Both Carnegie and Salladin were thus working towards peace in society and economic prosperity. Could such a relinquishing of wealth or power help ease tensions in the current Lebanese situation?
The population is demanding new governance, not temporary makeover:
The economic situation of Lebanon seems to demand the same as the public, in fact any country or individuals going bankrupt end up at the mercy of others. If the IMF would take part in any restoration activity, the French or any other foreign institutions or countries there would surely be various types of demands that have to be followed through as custom.
The Relief web of the UN Office for The Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) has posted a report regarding “Lebanon’s revolt” that was issued by the International Crisis Group. Therein it is made clear that the masses in the country are united irrespective of religion groups in demanding systematic reform. “Most protesters appear bent on the government’s resignation if not the political system’s complete overhaul”. The report concludes that technical solutions by the current rulers will be inadequate as the overwhelming sentiment seems to be throw out the political elite as a whole.
Regrettably violence has been breaking out in the last days, with police crackdown or clashes as they are currently called in the media. The people of Lebanon still seem united while the ruling classes are described as applying their sectarian groups with the aim to maintain power. The protesting public wants the whole system modernized viewing it so that the sectarian system has stalled the country economically. The politicians seem stuck in negotiations according to how the present system works. The public has been protesting in the streets for over two months and continues. The light in the situation can though be seen in that the government has not applied full force or violence in quelling the protests completely! That can have to do with international tensions. If the government or other bodies would utilize full force of violence towards the protesters there could be escalation for foreign influence and even civil war.
Firstly regrettably all sources point to that there has been mismanagement in connection with politics in Lebanon. To be in politics there is clearly connected with the difficulties posed by a complex intergroup system of socio-religious groups, a system the public has had enough of. Nevertheless even for the observer or analyst bent on being neutral all the evidence points to that politically connected individuals have capsized the country economically. The example of country wide bank system collapse in 2008 in Iceland serves as the case in point showing clearly what can readily happen to banking in Lebanon – the situation is bad enough what regards apparent kleptocracy not to mention financial viability to be very unattractive in what regards creating a helping response from the international community. Such a response would likely mandate through systematic reform of the politics and governance of the country.
It is highly unlikely that the ruling groups or individuals in Lebanon can presently manage to meet the protestors longing or demand for a normative democratic rule that is not based on the current very special sectarian system. The political groups are too locked in regarding one another and connected external pressures as evidently come from Iran, Israel, and the international community. They seem helpless to break up their current power structure. They do not seem free to surrender the control necessary for them to survive in terms of maintaining power and influence in the long run. This is like being a driver who only can throttle the gas; stuck in one gear.
This is the seriousness of the matter. And the situation is escalating.
Herein the examples of Andrew Carnegie and Shalladin have been shown forth. They seemingly understood that wealth disparity ruins a country and an economy when too intense. Carnegie gave 90% of his wealth and Salladin made sure his was gone at his death. The ruling classes in Lebanon could give up wealth and release parts of their power to ease the situation in their country in hope to survive as a ruling class. If they have the grandness or even ability to do so remains to be seen. What is seen now is a reshuffling of the in-groups that have been in power without any serious gestures towards the poorer population.
In this short analysis an effort has been made to show how immense the current pressures are and that they can by mitigated only by grand efforts of the ruling classes, including the international ones. The immensity was shown by drawing up a historical context both in terms of a nation at the brink of war because of religious differences and regarding a nation-wide bank system collapse. In both instances cases regarding Iceland and the global situation were brought forth. Also anthropological research of elites was highlighted with examples showing how immense business or money influences can be especially regarding super large corporations that connected militias or armies, states and finance. This relates all to pressures regarding banking in light of ongoing kleptocracy in the world. Further it has been indicated that kleptocracy in relation to wealth disparity “easily” leads to civil war via the case of South Sudan. It has thus been shown that the Lebanese situation showcases historic global difficulties and international influences.
- Can the elite give up wealth and positioning to maintain its viability in social positioning? For enabling peace?
- Is the escalation going to lead to a bank system collapse?
- Will the situation escalate to some type of a violent domestic revolution?
- Will the situation escalate into a domestic civil war?
- Will the international community step in and help the elites so connected with apparent kleptocracy?
- Will the situation escalate into a regional war drawing in Iran, Israel and international powers?
- Are there some other possibilities not indicated?
The highest hope is regarding 1. while that landing seems unlikely – obviously the poorer people with less power have little to give up while they can be further aggravated.
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 See note 77 and a reposting at the OCHA web as accessed by the following link Dec. 18, 2019. https://reliefweb.int/report/lebanon/lebanon-s-revolt
 Associated Press, “Lebanon protests run into second day amid police crackdown”, The Guardian, Dec. 15, 2019. Accessed Dec. 18, 2019. https://www.theguardian.com/world/2019/dec/15/offices-of-two-major-parties-set-on-fire-lebanons-state-run-agency-reports
 Azhari, “Saad Hariri says will not be Lebanon PM again as tensions rise”, AlJazeera, Dec. 18, 2019. Accessed Dec. 18, 2019. https://www.aljazeera.com/news/2019/12/saad-hariri-lebanon-pm-tensions-rise-191218173753995.html
 Bar‘el, “Lebanon’s protests have only one solution, and it is nowhere in sight”. Dec. 18, 2019. Accessed Dec. 18, 2019. https://www.haaretz.com/middle-east-news/.premium-lebanon-s-protest-have-only-one-solution-and-it-s-nowhere-in-sight-1.8283421?v=48E5BD8EB95EE152DE93A93BB988CE71