• Matthew Stevens

The Lebanese Government Resignation: A Middle Eastern Reminder?

Updated: Sep 10, 2020

It is easy to forget that police forces in the vast majority of countries employ very few people relative to their nation's population, and the use of military force would likely lead to full-scale revolution and potential foreign intervention. For this reason, the expected announcement of the resignation of the Lebanese Government should come with no surprise after retired military chiefs assisted members of the population in storming the foreign ministry and burning a portrait of President Michel Aoun, using chants from the Arab Spring of 2011, according to Reuters [1]. Since the Lebanese civil war officially ended in 1990, power-sharing in public offices has forced the government to control its appointments to all positions in a way that balances the power and influence of sects that secured representation, including religious groups (Christians, Sunni and Shiite Muslims, Druze) and nationalities such as Armenians [2]. This system then leads to power without the necessary qualification, as the most qualified may be looked past in order to maintain these ‘keep-the-peace’ arrangements. This then presents the trade-off of efficiency and corruption for peace, which has reached its maximum pressure point following the explosion of 2,750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate and killing of over 200 people to date in the capital city of Beirut.

It may then be argued that the inefficiency of the Lebanese government, brought about by a makeshift agreement to prevent the nation from falling into sectarian violence and civil war, now risks causing the exact events it was created to protect against. If the Lebanese government were to stand up to its people and refuse the government’s resignation, causing a civil war, it would have disposed of its very mandate for existence. Because of this, the nation's leaders have no choice but to stand down. However, the most important question to ask now is, “where does Lebanon go from here?”. Given the nations many power groups who were content with the sharing arrangements, there is a risk of a power vacuum being produced in the government's place, where a new sandbox for sectarian violence and struggle can take hold. The fine balance between these groups and the people calling for a revolution have therefore broken down, and it is difficult to decide which is worse for Lebanon, sectarian violence, civil war, or potentially both. One thing is for sure; these events are not the end of the struggle in Lebanon. They are not only back to square one, they at least a few paces behind square one.

The balance between peace and quality of life is a known trade-off we all make, if consciously or not. Some cultures have different values that make the equation more skewed, such as the culture of ‘harmony’ in China, making the efficient operation of the state, industry and cultural ties more important than freedom, according to Julian Baggini, a philosopher, in his book ‘How the World Thinks’ [3]. The value of ‘liberty’, embraced by many countries, then places more value on freedom than efficiency. Because of this, not all countries have the same pressure points in terms of when one outweighs the other. Therefore, they cannot all be painted with the same brush, but it seems Lebanon's balance has been crossed, between efficiency and peace. Furthermore, their younger population is not blighted by flashbacks from the ‘bad days’ of the civil war and they envision a better and more efficient future for the country.

Other world leaders, especially those in the Middle East, would be wise to take note of the recent and developing events in Lebanon, to assess their balance between freedom, peace, efficiency, corruption, and more. Leaving a sizable ‘gap’ between these public opinions and facts of state will ensure that a single sizable event cannot force a shift large enough to throw off their balance and cause large scale civil unrest.

By Matthew Howard Stevens,

Editor-in-Chief at TheLFJ


[1] https://www.reuters.com/article/us-lebanon-security-blast/lebanese-protesters-storm-ministry-buildings-as-anger-over-beirut-blast-grows-idUSKCN2540EX

[2] https://foreignpolicy.com/2019/12/13/sectarianism-helped-destroy-lebanon-economy/

[3] https://www.ft.com/content/80c796e8-ce16-11e8-8d0b-a6539b949662