Eli Khoury

Flipping 'Murphy's Law' in Lebanon

From 'What Can Go Wrong, Will', to 'If It Can Be Done, It Will'

Beirut City

Suppose we stop whining and speculate on Lebanon’s grand future. I mean it. For a minute, let us not look at the abysmal figures and awful indicators that we analyze daily about our country. Instead, let us imagine how good life in Lebanon would be if only we could improve the miserable conditions that we live and operate in. 


An excellent example of an inspiring, no-hopes-barred description of how great life could be in Lebanon a few years from now was written under the title ‘Beirutopia’ by the British Ambassador to Lebanon, Tom Fletcher.


In his blog, Fletcher hints at a future where Lebanon is as competitive as Singapore and as rich as Qatar, where the constitutional settlement “for the first time is truly Lebanese”, where no elected politician holds his seat on a sectarian base, where Hezbollah General Secretary Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is among the leaders attending Lebanon’s centennial of statehood, and where the president reminisces on how she got hitched to her partner in one the country’s first civil marriage ceremonies.


Fletcher’s view on Lebanon 2020 are so heartwarming and bright that one hopes his telling becomes foretelling.


Beautiful, promising, and positive as it is, reading this vision did leave a bitter taste. Why does that which feels so clearly possible so viciously appear to be impossible? Could it be some sort of destiny that we will be forever ruled by incompetence?


Or could it be that what is impossible under the wrong management of our nation can be made possible, and much sooner than we think, if we put the right governance in place? To ponder that means to turn ‘Murphy’s Law’ on its head and assert not that what can go wrong invariably will, but that in Lebanon, if it can be done, it will.


Can we, the private sector and civil society of Lebanon, alter the course of events and create change management or, hopefully, a management change? I think we can. Let me elaborate.


It seems logical and safe to say that the prevailing political conditions are the primary hindrance to a healthy economy and productive environment. There are huge incentives for my industry to pour all of our passion and efforts into changing these detrimental conditions. Advertising and media, being a central talent of the Lebanese in general and one of the country’s largest exports, will likely benefit most from an improvement of our national conditions.


It might also be safe to say that the people who manage, create and work in advertising and media are people who, like those in many other industries, are decently educated and relatively progressive citizens; citizens and entrepreneurs who have dreams and care about where they would like to achieve them and how.


Based on these assumptions, can communications tell our citizens the truth and nothing but, so that they can finally act on what is in their best interest? And would they listen?


Let me put this to you in the way we do it: as a brief of targets to achieve in a communications campaign.


Here is my opinion, as one person in media, on what that brief contains: for authority to exist, our state has to have a monopoly over armed power. For security to exist, our nation needs its borders to be accurately defined and steadfastly protected from intrusions. For peace to exist, we need to be able to assert a productive balance of our national prerogatives and implement neutral foreign policy against pressures of global interests and regional conditions.

It is overdue that we receive the respectful treatment that is owed to us from both of our neighbors.


For communal harmony to exist, our political system needs a communal senate in duo with secular proportional representation in the Parliament, and the Senate has to be inclusive of one of our greatest assets, the diaspora. For social progress to exist, governance must be decentralized, as people’s interests are best represented at the level of their immediate environment and not in the whimsical hands of a central junta.


These are but some of the points in my brief. And finally, for a solution to exist, brave women and men need to act.  


Eli Khoury is chairman and CEO of Quantum Group and M&C Saatchi MENA.


This commentary was originally published in Executive Magazine on 5 March 2013.

Lebanon’s ruling political elite has yet to deliver on a series of long overdue reforms. High on the list is decentralization and the formation of a Senate. (AFP)

"Fletcher hints at a future where Lebanon is as competitive as Singapore and as rich as Qatar, where the constitutional settlement “for the first time is truly Lebanese”, where no elected politician holds his seat on a sectarian base, where Hezbollah General Secretary Sayyed Hassan Nasrallah is among the leaders attending Lebanon’s centennial of statehood, and where the president reminisces on how she got hitched to her partner in one the country’s first civil marriage ceremonies."

  • majd el Arabi

    Mr Eli Khoury, with all due respect to your sweet dreams, allow me to comment on your first dream : for a state to have authority, it should first be free, is our state free? are our Presidents free? how may they be free in case they cannot take a decision that bothers the Gulf nations for example no matter the reason? can they take a decision that bothers the USA for example? can they take a decision to arm our Lebanese Army? can they take a decision to accept a MIG Fighters grant from Russia? let`s be objective and practical, take the last debate about our foreign Minister, did he do any wrong in the first place? the guy called for dialogue with Syria to end the conflict politically, do we the Lebanese have any interest in solving the syrian problem militarily? the foreign Minister also objected to the legalization of sending weapons to syria, are we for sending weapons to syria? what if the Gulf nations decided to apply the arab league decision and send weapons through Lebanon? do we have an interest, or we cannot argue with the rich Gulf? in brief, to have authority one should have guts and freedom.

    March 13, 2013

  • TonyIstambouly

    Dear Mr. Hannibal Lecter, first of all, your post was irrelevant to this article; what you don’t know is that Eli is a boots and jeans wearing person not the show off and money craving person you have in mind…he is simply trying to change and evolve and demanding the rights and laws of every developed country, the thing that you and your dictatorship mentality won’t understand and will keep us down and behind…we are a third world country and will stay as long as weapons and militias are on streets and as long as you and your fellows "thinkers" are still breathing…why don’t you go get a life and try to build something, at least something…Cheers!

    March 9, 2013

  • fadi c

    Wow Hanibaal-Atheos, you're a bit harsh in your criticism of Eli Khoury, dont you think? How can you jump to conclusions of naivety and selling Lebanon to the filthy rich and racism and so on and so forth on the base of this article is beyond comprehension. Or is it because you could detect a certain political leaning in Eli's article that does not fit with your own personal views that you unleashed your irrational attack? Let me guess: it is Eli's mention of the state's monopoly over weapons and the need to define and protect our borders that ticked you off; Right? Gosh Hanibaal you're so predictable in your irrationality it is sickening. Of course what Eli calls "the brief" is not complete and there are important points that need to be included, but your reaction is typical of what is wrong with our poor country. Sadly, with so many people like you, the road to rebuilding the country will be long and hard.

    March 9, 2013

  • Hanibaal-Atheos

    Eli Khoury epitomizes the worst in Lebanon: Superficially articulate and modern, but deep down, all is he wants is for Lebanon to be "useful" to his dreams of making more money from selling even more superficial advertisement to naive and credulous - and filthy rich - Gulf Arabs. These dreams are precisely what have led Lebanon down the abyss of commercialism, a dog-eat-dog society, cruel, racist and xenophobic, and the only worthy pursuit Eli Khoury and his likes have in mind is money. What we need in Lebanon is what the previous commentators have articulated so well: Civility, love and respect for our fellow human beings and for our environment, humility before others and before the law, self-reliance, belief in the social contract that brings together under one government, paying taxes, basic decency, and a genuine openness to the world, not just from the mercantile perspective of "how can I milk the world so I can build an ostentatious villa and buy a snazzy car to wow my neighbors and the remaining scum of the Lebanese people..." Much is rotten in the depth of our society and our beings... Lebanon needs a revolution and a begnin dictatorship for a few decades to redraw a baseline from which we can start evolving again. We almost reached that point in the late 1960s... but oh how far we have regressed from that zenith...

    March 9, 2013

  • Pato

    How nice it is to dream, but with the current configuration of the nation ( 17 sects), no rule of law, no interest by groups to cede power to the government, neighbors hell bent on keeping you in the dirt, International powers playing Chess in Lebanon, our Politicians on the payroll of every Tom Dick and Harry worldwide, the way the Lebanese behave, drive, speak, treat each other, lie, steal, I see no way what so ever this utopia to exist. The sooner people stop dreaming, the sooner they realize its time to get out of this hell hole. Lebanon is gorgeous, except for the people in it. As soon as they all kill each other, those of us on the outside, can come back in, and help rebuild. Until then,any effort and money is wasted.

    March 8, 2013

  • fadi c

    Most importantly, a respectable majority of those who are now 'Lebanese' must sincerely believe that 'Lebanon' is a worthy idea for a nation, and that this idea should take precedence over other tribal, confessional or even ideological considerations. Unfortuantely while all (politicians/crooks, religious charlatans and the common people) claim allegience to this idea, my personal feeling is that the great majority is lying and have barely hidden non-nationalistic agendas. For too many 'Lebanese', Lebanon should only be a reflection of their own personal views, whatever they are, no compromise, rather than a blending of views which is the pretty mosaic Lebanon should be. So, for Lebanon to exists, the Lebanese must believe in the supreme value of this nation. Unfortunately this seems to be easier said than done.

    March 8, 2013

  • F-Kay

    Agreed with RALPHS. on everything he said. The reason Singapore became so awesome is because the people are intrinsically civil, they understand the meaning of laws and how to implement them. They did so decades before HSBC moved there! If we are to truly progress as a nation, we need to start understanding the value of the human, we need to have tolerance and we need to grow out of our tribal shells. We will then slowly start to build a civil society based on social mobility, solidarity and institutions. At the moment we live in a jungle.

    March 8, 2013

  • RalphS.

    The real problem with Lebanon was not mentioned in the article above; the writer puts the blame on politicians, neighbors and our foreign made constitution... but totally ignores the real problem out of pride of course. The real problem being the Lebanese people themselves who need CIVIC lessons. Counting how many schools and universities we have does not make us civilized, nor the number of advertisement companies and how many "educated" employees they employ. I will have hope for Lebanon the day I will see people standing in line for their movie ticket, or wait patiently on a red light. Until then, all the natural beauty of our country, all the oil wealth in the sea and the 250 sunny days... matter little. It is only when Lebanese cease to be jungle inhabitants that we'll be able to call it a country and by extension see some hope.

    March 7, 2013

  • Pato

    That day will never come Ralphs, sadly!

    March 8, 2013