Lebanon

Damocles’s Armory

I know several foreigners who are traveling to Lebanon this summer, and so I’m routinely asked about the chances of “something happening” while they are there.

I usually adopt a thoughtful expression, pause for a moment, and tell them not to worry. This seems to work.

Sometimes, if I am feeling mischievous, I adopt a thoughtful expression, cock an eyebrow and say: “Do you want me to be honest?” After the color drains from their face, I squint into the distance, furrow my brow, and scratch my head as though I am preparing to break some tough news. And then I say, not very convincingly: “You probably don’t have to worry about anything. Have fun!”

All of this travel advice has gotten me thinking, though. Is there any other country in the region that is vulnerable to so many (apparently) existential threats? We Lebanese seem to cultivate them. Rather than a single sword of Damocles, we seem to have acquired an entire armory’s worth, a flashing chandelier of watered-steel blades suspended over our heads.

Here are some of my favorites:

1. The War — You know, the Big One. The one that’s coming soon, maybe as soon as next week. It’s just a matter of time before Israel decides to launch another war against Hizbullah, and this time there won’t be anything left once the dust settles. It’ll be the end of Lebanon as we know it…

2. The Hariri Tribunal — Once indictments are issued, we can expect the country to descend into chaos, particularly if Syria’s allies are implicated in any way. The mini-era of reconciliation will be over and it’ll be back to the street riots, but this time things will escalate into a full blown civil war. It’ll be the end of Lebanon as we know it…

3. The Debt — Now over $52 billion USD (or around 150% of GDP), Lebanon’s public debt threatens to capsize the country’s fragile economy and send it the way of Greece and California. If that it happens, it’ll be the end of Lebanon as we know it…

4. The Emigrants — Lebanon’s youth are emigrating in record numbers to the Gulf, Europe, Canada, Africa, Australia, etc. because they can’t find decent jobs in their own country. Pretty soon, Beirut will be populated entirely by wealthy foreign expats (and their exploited housekeepers). It’ll be the end of Lebanon as we know it…

5. Pollution — Lebanon’s famously green forests and picturesque mountains are being chopped down and detonated into rubble by fat-cat oligarchs and their wasta-obtained rukhsas. Meanwhile, the Mountain of Trash in Saida is turning our coastline into a disease-ridden Petri dish. Pretty soon, there will be no reason for wealthy foreign expats (and their exploited housekeepers) to buy property here at all, which means that it’ll be the end of Lebanon as we know it…

6. The Earthquake – An undersea earthquake off the coast creates a massive tsunami that washes us all away. As we all know, the country is crisscrossed by fault lines. One big quake, and it’ll be the end of Lebanon as we know it…

What am I missing?

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Discussion

18 thoughts on “Damocles’s Armory

  1. All what you mention plus ,ore are constant threats hanging over the head of the Lebanese. My point of disagreement, and you did not spell it out but I think that you implied it, is the insinuation that Lebanon is a victim of circumstances. I beg to differ, All of the mentioned threats , real and imagined, are manifestations of a rotten system. It will be wrong to attempt to deal with these perceived challenges one at a time since all of them are essentially the by product of a “pretend” state. Lebanon is neither independent nor sovereign. What passes for hollow institutions of democracy are arrangements meant to consolidate the rule of the oligarchs and its citizens have shown no real interest in holding any of the pols accountable for anything.

    All the above threats are real but they are also interdependent. It would not surprise me to see all the above plus an internal social and political conflict errupt all at once. It will be a “perfect storm” that ought to be welcomed and not feared. No one can predict the future with any precision but it is very clear that the current Lebanon is neither viable nor sustainable and a radical change just might be what the doctor ordered. The present state of affairs cannot continue and it is my hope that the resulting “revolution” will cleanse all of these wrongs and excesses. There is no need for a state to exist when its existence is in contradiction with the very idea of what a state is supposed to be.

    ( To play along with the original post one could add:
    Real estate bubble
    Commercial Banking crisis
    Poverty induced social tension
    Sectarian strife)

    But in spite of all of this I would not discourage anyone from either visiting or moving to Lebanon as long as one is aware of the risk. Lebanon is not a place for the risk avert.

    Posted by Ghassan Karam | June 5, 2010, 10:52 pm
  2. The EARTHQUAKE!! You forgot the earthquake!

    Posted by mj | June 6, 2010, 12:24 am
  3. Road rage! You forgot the traffic situation!

    Posted by Sietske | June 6, 2010, 2:22 am
  4. Giant earthquake off the coast creates a massive tsunami that destroys Lebanon. Actually Geologists have a record of it happening before and the next one is already overdue.

    Posted by Nasser Victor | June 6, 2010, 2:27 am
  5. Ahh yes, the earthquake. I knew I was missing a big one. I’ll add it later.

    Ghassan,

    I was not implying that these issues are the product of circumstance. You should know me better than that by now.

    We are responsible for all of these problems.

    Except for the earthquake…

    Posted by Qifa Nabki | June 6, 2010, 7:16 am
  6. I agree with Ghassan. Lebanon is just a lap dog; not a real breed….

    QN,

    You forgot that Lebanon will one day inevitably prepare the “giantest” (sorry for the made up word) bowl of hummus EVER and drown in it! …and that will be the end of Lebanon as we know it…

    Posted by danny | June 6, 2010, 7:43 am
  7. Left out: Assassinations, crime families oh, and the world cup.

    Posted by mo | June 6, 2010, 8:11 am
  8. On a serious note to anyone going, 2,3,4 and 5 are never going to cause the kind of trouble to ruin your stay. 1 isn’t going to happen until Israel has its “iron dome” up and running (not until the end of the year at least).

    I can make no guarantees about no.6 as our fault lines are just puppets of Israeli fault lines….

    Posted by mo | June 6, 2010, 10:20 am
  9. The Lebanon we knew?! Religious, ethnic, and political penchants aside, I blame us Maronites for the Lebanon we knew so shallowly. Nearly a century ago, Maronites (the church) were given carte blanche by the French to devise a country. WWII saw the end of the French mandate and a new democracy ruled by a Maronite president with dictator-like constitutional might. In early 70s, Patriarch Maoucheh pronounced his concerns in a speech in College Antoura. “If the government cannot afford brooms to sweep this country clean, the Patriarchate will donate.” As the fighting began between Palestinians and Kataeb, Maoucheh was deemed incompetent (senile?) and replaced by Khoreish of a Palestinian mother. In ’86 began the reign of Sfeir who failed to preserve the glory of historic wadi Qannoubine let alone that of Lebanon. Lebanon was never the country with think we knew. It’s always been and Achilles Heel.

    Posted by Noble Christian | June 6, 2010, 11:01 am
  10. Sudden global warming caused by a few more volcanoes spawning around the globe dramatically increasing green house effect leading to a rise in sea level, drowning the whole coast in the Mediterranean within months, perhaps?

    More seriously, I would be a bit concerned about another summer blockbuster, Fath el Islam Part II – Back With a Vengence (or other similarly inspired nuts).

    Posted by mas | June 6, 2010, 11:57 am
  11. Since August 2006 the birth of my son on the island of Sicily, I’m trying to convince my wife to visit Lebanon…
    And I’m always asked about the chances of “something happening” while we are there!?!

    I usually make a list of some of the probalities above, I’ll try to adopt next time your answer may be it works, and definitly no word about this article !

    Palermo June 2010

    Posted by georges salameh | June 6, 2010, 1:16 pm
  12. LOL, I’m with Danny (comment 6) on this one.

    Posted by Rime | June 6, 2010, 5:19 pm
  13. While I agree with all of QN’s six points, I’m also willing to give Lebanon some slack. We all know that Lebanon has many shortcomings, however, it is hard to be Lebanon considering the neighborhood. I’m positive that if we were bordered by say Norway or Ireland things would be a bit different.

    How many countries out there can pull their pants up after 35 years of war and mayhem, and still maintain an economic growth rate of around 7 percent? plus rebuild the capital?

    So lots of things need to be fixed long term. Big deal!

    Wish I’m going this summer. For the folks who are, have a great time and enjoy.

    Posted by ras beirut | June 6, 2010, 8:35 pm
  14. we burn thru all the world supply of fa7em and m3asal for shisha
    and it’ll be the end of Lebanon as we know it…

    Posted by V | June 6, 2010, 9:45 pm
  15. Shortage of women,do you have a reservation ?

    Posted by Abdo | June 6, 2010, 11:09 pm
  16. I leave Lebanon every year for summer, always betting to book before the next one blows in everyone’s face. Each September, as I come back, it’s been the end of Lebanon as a knew it…by the way, every time I watch myself in the mirror, I don’t recognize myself! Must be the end of me as I knew me? In top of that, I can’t recognize my wallet either!! Getting smaller and smaller every time I go to the supermarket (ok, that’s not the “end of Lebanon as we knew it”, or is it?)

    Posted by mj | June 7, 2010, 2:33 am
  17. QN: “We are responsible for everything but the earthquake”.

    I beg to differ. You know very well that Israel has earthquake-inducing technology and will not hesitate to use it.
    Remember all those little quakes in the South over the past 2 years? What do you think those are? Israel testing out their earthquake-weapon abilities!

    (I do love the Lebanese conspiracy theories. Truly unsurpassed in creativity).

    Posted by Bad Vilbel | June 7, 2010, 1:07 pm
  18. You forgot the one where religious war breaks out when Saudi-funded Salafis in Akkar/Beqa’a/’Ayn al-Hilwa finally decide to take on Hizbollah!

    Posted by Freya | June 9, 2010, 6:03 pm

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