As the sheer scale of Lebanon’s meltdown continues to be absorbed by its people, some are starting to confront an unpalatable view that the state’s very foundations were flawed at each of its incarnations. From the Ottoman empire to French mandate, Syrian tutelage, the ravages of the civil war and then the rentier system that followed the 1991 Taif accords which ended the conflict, Lebanon has never had an easy run. But the past three decades in particular have laid the groundwork for its demise.
“After Taif, [the warlords] got consolation prizes, instead of being punished for keeping the war going as long as they did,” said Nora Boustany, a lecturer in journalism at the American University of Beirut, who covered the conflict and aftermath. “They went to town. It was a bonanza for them. The Syrians knew it was happening and they wanted a piece of the action as well. To keep the peace, there was an accommodation with justice. This created a culture of impunity, and this became the norm.
“Rafic Hariri steamrolled ahead with reconstruction,” said Boustany of the former prime minister who presided over Lebanon’s postwar rebuild, accumulating a vast fortune along the way. Saudi Arabia and Syria were central to Lebanon’s reconstruction, setting up patronage networks and spheres of influence that took decisive stakes in the country’s affairs, while at the same time giving patrons a free rein to corral fortunes.
Text och image by The Guardians