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Xavier Baron: "I do not see the way out of the Lebanese crisis in the suppression of communitarianism


Written by Frédéric Dubessy on Thursday, February 3rd 2022 à 16:30 | Read 369 times


Journalist, successively editor-in-chief for France, central editor and director of the Middle East region (a department he created in 1987) at Agence France Presse, Xavier Baron talks about the origins of Lebanon's current problems in an exclusive interview granted to econostrum.info as part of his intervention at the Entretiens de l'association Euromed-IHEDN on Tuesday, February 1, 2022 in Marseille. This expert on the country, who has been posted in Beirut for more than twenty years, is confident about its future, while being aware of the difficulties to be overcome.


The history of Lebanon explains the crisis that Lebanon has been experiencing for decades, according to Xavier Baron (photo: F.Dubessy)
The history of Lebanon explains the crisis that Lebanon has been experiencing for decades, according to Xavier Baron (photo: F.Dubessy)
econostrum.info: How do you explain the current situation in Lebanon?

Xavier Baron: It is the misuse, the deformation, of a system that existed before the birth of a modern Lebanon. After the civil war (editor's note: 1975 to 1990), a political class composed in part of former militia leaders during the conflict was put in place and is running the country. They deviated from the rules applied before 1990, which were already communal rules, but which worked well with some. After 1990, Lebanon became a neo-patrimonial state, i.e. where politicians and civil servants consider that the state is their business and that public finances belong to them. And since everyone represents a community, everything becomes unmanageable.

Eighteen communities are officially recognised in Lebanon, eleven of which are Christian. It is not written down, but since 1943 and the Lebanese National Pact (editor's note: governing coexistence between the different confessions), the President of the Republic is a Maronite Christian, the Prime Minister a Sunni, the President of the Shiite Parliament, and the Vice-President of the Chamber of Deputies and the Council of Ministers a Druze. Civil service positions are distributed according to the supposed importance of each community, as the last census, carried out by the French, dates from 1932. They are the backbone of the state and the state therefore relies on them. 

If the Taif agreements, signed in Saudi Arabia in 1989, have the advantage of having put an end to the civil war and of having ensured the independence of the country, they have on the other hand confirmed the sharing of key positions between the three largest religious communities. And they established the practice of letting ministers appoint the civil servants of their department, necessarily from their clan.

"The solution is to renew the political class"

"The Lebanese are trained people," insists Xavier Baron, confident in their ability to raise the country (photo: F.Dubessy)
"The Lebanese are trained people," insists Xavier Baron, confident in their ability to raise the country (photo: F.Dubessy)
Does all the evil come from this communitarian system?

X.B.: No, not at all! If communitarianism were to be abolished tomorrow, even if in my opinion it is impossible, the problem would remain. Simply because the political class would remain in place. In any case, the Muslims are against it and I am not sure that the other Lebanese are for it. But it could be arranged. In any case, I don't see the way out in the suppression of communitarianism.

The solution is to renew the political class, to change the political mores. The current crisis has its origins in debt, banking freedom and the practices of the Central Bank of Lebanon https://en.econostrum.info/Lebanese-justice-prohibits-the-governor-of-the-Central-Bank-of-Lebanon-to-leave-the-country_a1226.html which buys up the country's debts with the deposits of savers, as in a Ponzi scheme.

This is the real issue. The Lebanese took to the streets in October 2017 to demand the departure of all current politicians, but is there really an alternative, new faces to replace them?

X.B.: It can't be worse than now! The Lebanese are trained people, and when they come to the West they have no problem adapting. We can also think that a certain number of Lebanese living abroad, seeing that the situation is improving, would return to Lebanon. There is no doubt about that. I am convinced that well-trained people in international institutions could propose something else.

"Confident in the quality of the Lebanese"

Xavier Baron was the guest of Jean-François Coustillière, President of the Euromed-IHEDN association (photo: F.Dubessy)
Xavier Baron was the guest of Jean-François Coustillière, President of the Euromed-IHEDN association (photo: F.Dubessy)
So everything will depend on the next legislative elections which are due to take place on 15 May 2022?

X.B.: Yes, except that they are on the dotted line as usual in Lebanon. We always fear that some incident will lead to the postponement of the elections. So it's a big question mark. The only hope, which is quite frail, is the civil society and its vote which can change everything.

How can Lebanon, which has been bankrupt since March 2020, recover?

X.B.: Getting Lebanon's economy back on its feet means first of all using the country's finances well. Therefore, we should no longer distribute prebends as it is currently the case or make our money grow abroad. It must be invested in the productive tool, for the time being in the media, industry and agriculture, and businesses will take off again.

So you have confidence in the future of this country?

X.B.: I have total confidence in the Lebanese. But today, they have no money, they cannot work, their staff is unemployed, but they know how to do things. So I am confident about the quality of the Lebanese, but not about the departure date of the current political class.



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