by Chaden Hani
Lebanon is currently witnessing unprecedented mass protest movements against the political ruling class for the failures contributing to a dire national economic and social crisis that has undermined the dignified existence of its citizens. Protest events included a prolonged general strike and upheaval, leaving banks, schools and universities closed, as well as private businesses and organizations. It cannot be denied that the anti-government demonstrations have unified large numbers of people from various sects across Lebanon – a country that has been rift with religious sectarianism. Masses of protestors have taken to the streets and stood side-by-side to vent their disdain for a political class that has created an insufficient system of governance. The protest has left the country in near paralysis, as it blocked major roads across the country, forcing the resignation of the Prime Minister and his government.
The wave of protests comes as Lebanon faces deep-running fiscal mismanagement and staggers under one of the highest debt ratios in the world, at more than 150% of the country’s gross domestic product. Demonstrators are speaking out against the government’s corruption, including entrenched patronage networks monopolizing the economy and stifling much needed political, social and economic reforms. Failure to provide basic services has led to unending trash pile-ups, random dumping of its waste output, and chronic electricity shortages throughout Lebanon. The crisis has personally affected citizens by way of proposed tax increases on interest payments, and cuts in public-sector wages, salaries, and pensions. Lebanese workers continue to struggle to find respectable work that will secure a basic living standard. The mid-2019 Cost of Living Index ranked Beirut the fourth-highest among 21 Arab cities and 157th among 377 cities around the world.
Within days of the protest outbreak, Lebanon’s Prime Minister, Saad al-Hariri, presented a package of reforms with government partners to ease the economic crisis, which included an approved budget for 2020 that would reportedly cut Lebanon’s deficit down to 0.6% of gross domestic product. But demonstrators across Lebanon have refused to accept this offer and continue to demand the resignation of the government, early parliamentary elections, and the return of public money that is widely known to have been stolen by the political class and their associates.
In February 2019, Saad Hariri concluded 8 months of negotiations and spearheaded a 30-member government that promised to deliver economic and political reforms. Attempts to provide solutions for Lebanon’s problems have proven uninspiring to the everyday citizen, as the practice of government corruption continues unabated. Instead of real reform, austerity measures were proposed to address the dire fallout.
Protestors are shouting out in heated frustration about the low quality of life available to them, the massive disparities in wealth across the country, the unfair hiring procedures practiced throughout state institutions, the failure to access jobs, and the poor health care system. People have lost hope in their leaders and are speaking out against the very real form of injustice they have endured. Governmental injustice against its people exists when the state fails to provide citizens with the basic necessities of life, and is intensified by the wide practice of discrimination and nepotism that is rampant within a system of religious sectarianism.
Politicians have been unusually quiet at this time, and there seems to be very little interest in engaging the people who elected them into office. Instead, they attempt to buy time in order to implement laws that could restore the trust they have lost from citizens. Even so, large segments of the people seem to have lost hope in the 30-year status quo of Lebanese governance. Despair and disappointment will be fueling the revolution until God interferes.
Responding emotionally against injustice is simply human. In John 18:10 we read about how Peter reacted violently to Jesus’s unwarranted arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane by cutting off the ear of the high priest’s servant. Jesus rebuked this kind of reaction from Peter, instead choosing to surrender himself to crucifixion in obedience to God’s will – a sacrifice that honored His father and worked to restore the relationship between God and humanity. Responding to injustice requires being ready to embrace pain: are the Lebanese politicians ready to sacrifice their comfort for the sake of achieving long-term, durable justice? Are they ready to give an honest account of the people and problems that have created a failed system of governance? Are the Lebanese people ready to elect honest leaderships to advance their aspirations? Will they be able to preserve the immediate qualities of this revolution and seek a way forward that opposes sectarianism, promotes a sense of shared nationality, and identifies high-quality leadership?
In his 2011 book “God and Politicians”, Lebanese theologian Ghassan Khalaf discusses the ethical values that should characterize political leaders. He says a political leader should have wisdom, while striking the balance between justice and mercy. When seeking justice, it is vital to think about the good that comes from showing mercy (Proverbs 3:3-4). The Lebanese people are in need of mercy from their rulers. Above all, an honorable leader should be committed to serving rather than being served. Such leadership preserves the dignity of the people and fosters respect and trust in those appointed to govern.
Before the parliamentary elections in 2018, the local Lebanese church played an important role in educating its congregation about electing candidates based on honesty, servanthood and ethics. Little has been said about the performance of the government since those elections, and the Church is needed to continue a discourse about the qualities and requirements of political leadership, as it provides true models of leadership and servanthood. Today, the current situation demands that the church work towards activating radical change and teaching about the Kingdom values and ethics that should be implemented by all people in their daily life. In doing so, the church may be able to assist in eradicating corruption, thereby becoming a model for future generations.