Lebanon desperately needs the freedom it once venerated
On Lebanon’s Independence Day, SFL alumna Romy Haber writes about her country’s critical situation.
On November 22, Lebanon celebrates its independence day with a military parade featuring officials of the corrupt governing “troika.” This parade is a deep display of irony, as the Lebanese army has failed to protect the country’s freedom and independence, while officials have kept on opening the door to occupations and foreign interference.
The people of Lebanon face a dire situation
Today, the Lebanese people are the hostages of an Iranian-backed militia, a corrupt mafia, and a state-sponsored Ponzi scheme operated by the central bank.
The life savings of a population have been stolen, people no longer have access to their dollars deposited in banks, and the Lebanese Lira has lost most of its value.
Consequently, life in the small Mediterranean country became a living hell. People have to wait in line for hours just to buy basic necessities such as fuel and medicine, which they very often cannot even find or afford. For example, filling up a car costs significantly more than the minimum wage. For the most part, young people will spend the few hours when electricity is available applying to jobs, scholarships, and opportunities abroad, desperately trying to escape.
Poverty is brutal, and state-manufactured poverty even more so. The Lebanese regime is the architect of the country’s crisis. They have robbed the Lebanese people of so many things, but the most important of all is freedom.
Lebanon has neglected its original ideals
Michel Chiha — one of the fathers of the Lebanese Constitution — was anxious to preserve the country’s vocation of defending freedom. He stated that “everything in this country is based on freedom and the future depends on it.”
Sadly, on the economic freedom index, Lebanon’s economy is currently ranked as the 154th freest in the world, and a lowly 12th among 14 countries in the Middle East and North Africa region. Its overall score is well below the regional and world averages.
Political freedom in Lebanon is also under constant threat. According to Freedom House’s annual study of political rights and civil liberties worldwide, Lebanon scored 13/40 on political rights and 30/60 on civil liberties.
While there is a façade of respect for civil rights and freedom of speech, there are certain red lines that people in Lebanon know they cannot cross. Activists or journalists who do can face “legal” oppression (Lawfare) or death. Lebanon has a long list of assassinated thinkers and politicians who opposed Hezbollah and the Assad regime.
Back in 1948, Chiha wrote:
“History, evidence, and fact all show that even a moderate version of a tightly controlled economic system is not a rational option for Lebanon… The state must accept the inevitable. It will have to give up a conformist economic and financial policy, and courageously go to the utmost limits of liberalism; or else, out of predilection for what it calls principles, it will itself become responsible for increasing emigration and all its tragic consequences…”
On October 17, 2019, the Lebanese attempted a failed revolution. Since then, most people see elections as the best way to boot out the elites. However, realistically, elections in a country like Lebanon cannot bring about much change, and can even legitimize the regime.
Cryptocurrency and civil disobedience can make a difference
In the last couple of years, Lebanon has been suffering from a hyperinflation crisis. The most important lesson they should learn from this is how dangerous fiat money can be, how it can destroy their lives, and that there is an alternative: Bitcoin.
Many have been extremely critical of those who promote the adoption of Bitcoin in Lebanon, warning that “Bitcoin is not without risk.” Yet, the Lebanese lira has dropped by 90 percent in the last two years while the value of Bitcoin has shot up. This could have saved many Lebanese from the financial ruin caused by the ruthless printers at the central bank.
In terms of political activism, we could see more alternatives to the increasingly pointless elections, where people ignore and refuse to engage with the regime. The Lebanese people could simply stop paying taxes to the regime that oppresses them and continues to destroy their country. Why should the Lebanese fund destabilizing conflicts with its neighbours that destroy the incentives for foreign investment and prosperity in their country?
Asking for peace and neutrality is resistance in Lebanon.
Only a renewed emphasis on freedom can help the crisis in Lebanon
Resistance can take many forms, but each form should prioritize freedom. Many argue that this focus on freedom and liberalism is just another imported western ideology. However, the truth is that freedom is a universal value. Indeed, it was deeply cherished and venerated in Lebanese thought and practice.
Just like Chiha, the other fathers of Lebanon’s 1926 Constitution Petro Trad, Omar Daouk, and Charles Corm, placed a heavy emphasis on freedom and were critical of big government. Corm promoted Mediterranean cosmopolitanism, decentralization, localism, and preferred trading merchandise and ideas over guns.
Moreover, Charles Malik, the Lebanese philosopher who served as a co-author of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR), defined human rights as individual rights. He always feared the demands of the collective would be made at the expense of the individual. In his article The Metaphysics of Freedom, Malik wrote:
“This is an age of group freedom. The individual human is relatively in eclipse. Groups want to be free, want to be themselves, but not individual persons. The individual person is assimilated to his group. His group is more real, more ultimate than he. […] He always has at the back of his mind, and sometimes at the side of his mind, what his nation or his class or his party or his race or his culture expects from him. He is determined by it.”
Freedom is at the heart of Lebanese history and literature, and today Lebanon needs freedom more than ever. The whole region needs a free Lebanon so that it can once again serve as a refuge for minorities seeking freedom. This is what Lebanon is supposed to be.
By Romy Haber
Romy Haber is a Lebanese freelance journalist and master’s student in International Security Studies. She is particularly interested in conflict areas and strives for freedom and individual sovereignty.
This article was first published under Students for Liberty