Econostrum | Economic News in the Mediterranean

Agnès Levallois: "The only possible way out of the crisis in Lebanon is a secular state"

Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Thursday, April 7th 2022 à 15:00 | Read 216 times

In an exclusive interview granted to during the 11th International Meeting of Cybèle, organised in Marseille by the Euromed-IHEDN association, Agnès Levallois, a former journalist and consultant specialising in the Middle East, says she believes in the emergence of new systems in countries that have experienced social movements over the past decade. In particular in Lebanon.

Agnès Levallois: Hope was very high in 2011 and 2019. This parenthesis, for the time being at least, is closed. This does not mean that we are back to square one. I object to the analysis that nothing has happened. An uprising has taken place, so societies have realised that they can do something. This is an important part of their evolution.

It is true that today, authoritarian regimes have taken advantage of the health crisis in particular to ban demonstrations and put an end to these opposition movements. The economic situation has also been such that societies now aspire to return to a more or less normal life. Some are postponing their desire to translate demands or promises received into political action.

Some parts of the region have also experienced a very strong counter-revolutionary movement: Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, Egypt...

"The gains of the revolutions can be reactivated"

We have gone backwards a bit in Egypt, haven't we?

A.L.: Yes, in this country we have gone backwards. But I think that the achievements of these revolutions, even if they seem very weak, can be reactivated later. They did manage to get rid of Mubarak and Ben Ali...
The leaden blanket that was put back on Egypt can thus re-explode one day or another. It can't go on indefinitely.

You talk about achievements, but in the end, these people did not get anything?

A.L.: Once again, they realised that they could bring down a system. And that's not nothing. Even if this seems derisory today compared to the difficulty of daily life, and it is not a question of minimising it. But we are seeing tangible results. Now, yes, of course, there is a feeling of going backwards. We are in a long-term historical process, not in a media time where you can change a society or a regime in a few months or even in a few years. We should rather try to capitalise on what has happened, knowing that it will evolve, instead of saying to ourselves, we have gone backwards and it's all over. I don't believe that!

"There is no longer a state in Lebanon"

The Lebanese took to the streets in 2019, the country has been bankrupt since March 2020 and is still in a chaotic economic, social and political situation. Do they still have the means to make themselves heard?

A.L.: In Lebanon, it has been demonstrated that the system set up with the community distribution is coming to the end of its existence. It has been proven that it could no longer work. This community system, with this reciprocal right of veto between the six mafia leaders, prevents the system from working. No decision can be taken without an agreement between the different confessions.

The only way out of the crisis is a state, which no longer exists in Lebanon, and a secular state. This is the demand of a platform that is being set up today in Lebanon on the eve of the legislative elections. They should normally be held in June 2022. It remains to be seen whether this election will take place? But if it is the case, the slogan of the opposition is to agree on a secular state. This is the only way out of the impasse in which the regime finds itself, since the communal system has led to bankruptcy and has allowed the six mafia leaders to capture the wealth. Not only for themselves, but to redistribute it to their clientele. This is antinomic with a state. A part of the Lebanese population has understood that this can no longer work.

The limit of what I'm saying, and I'm aware of it, is that the economic situation is so catastrophic that the politicians in place still have money and therefore distribute a lot of it to their own people to make sure that they will vote for them. This costs them ten times less than before because of the fall of the Lebanese pound. These young people took to the streets to demand something else, and in particular this state that I call secular, but we can say civil so as not to frighten people with this term of secularism which is ambiguous for many. The risk is that now that they have nothing to eat, they have other concerns. 80% of the Lebanese population lives below the poverty line, so receiving $50 for these Lebanese is a fortune.

"We can't get anything from the Lebanese political class".

So we are not in the same situation as in Libya? In Lebanon, there is an alternative with new actors who can replace the political class?

A.L.: We can't get anything from this political class. Moreover, Emmanuel Macron broke his teeth trying to do so. There are indeed forces offering an alternative. But you know perfectly well that they need some time to organise themselves and to be able to propose a programme. Moreover, they don't have the money that those in power today have. The great difficulty is to manage to mobilise a minimum of resources to impose a new policy. On the other hand, the systems have accumulated so much money for so long that they can continue to buy their clients.

The paradox is that the money to rebuild the country, in every sense of the word, will come from the International Monetary Fund, which is making it a condition that reforms be undertaken.

A.L.: It's a vicious circle! For the moment we can see that these mafia leaders do not need money. They already have it and even transferred it outside the country a long time ago. So they can continue to live like this indefinitely, even if their population, and excuse me for saying so, is dying. Another essential point is that Lebanon has been emptied of all its living forces. I'm going to make it short, and I know it may sound provocative, but all that's left are the old and the poor. And you don't make a country out of old people and poor people. That is the drama of Lebanon today.

Read also: Xavier Baron: "I don't see the way out of the Lebanese crisis in the suppression of communitarianism"

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