Like America, Russia, Iran and many other nations, Lebanon has finally got a government full of billionaires and wannabe-billionaires because, according to the newly emerging world trend in governance, who needs middlemen politicians? Billionaires of the world, who have until recently been influencers from behind the scenes, have finally decided to take over governments and run countries.
The dangerous coupling between power and money will further entrench the kleptocracies of Russia, Iran and Lebanon, and will further define their American counterpart. This trend is known as the Beijing Consensus, which replaced the Washington Consensus, which in turn was built on slimmer governments unleashing the power of capital and the private sector. Once governments unleashed the capitalists; now the capitalists are back to swallow these governments.
The template of these newly ‘incorporated’ governments is clear. Talk populism to the masses, divide them along the lines of religion and social issues rather than economic interests, take over government and use its power to further expand the fortunes of the class of billionaires, which has ballooned worldwide, at the same time that the middle class has sunk closer to poverty.
The problem is that the masses are always ready to act against their interests. Perhaps inheriting history’s oldest myth of a savior who comes to burn down the temple and save the masses from the establishment and its evils, Americans have shown how gullible they are, and by extension how fragile their democracy is.
Reports are already surfacing about Americans who have voted for President-elect Donald Trump but now regret their votes, mainly out of fear of possibly losing the meager social services and health care they receive, often partially subsidized by the federal government.
Russians have proven even more pliable than Americans. By getting riled up over the worthless national bravado their everlasting president Vladimir Putin offers them, they have seen their fortunes sink, their national currency tumble, and their economy shrink. Yet many of them believe Putin has revived their ‘national pride’ by standing up to America and restoring Russia to its former position as the world’s other superpower.
Then there are the Lebanese, the ones who have been duped the most. Lebanon’s Christians, whose numbers have been dwindling over the past three decades, celebrate ‘regaining their rights,’ which mainly consist of the election of Michel Aoun as president. As Aoun and his family continue to use their power to advance their financial interests and amass fortunes they describe as “inheritance,” Christian income per capita is shrinking.
More credulous still than Lebanon’s Christians are the Shiites, who have been sacrificing their young men by the thousands over the past three decades. Their neighborhoods have been flattened more than once in the course of war with Israel. Like other Lebanese, the Shiites have been forced to search for their livelihood around the world. Yet in their particular case, their options for host nations have withered thanks to Hezbollah’s antagonism of wealthy Gulf states.
Contrary to what many Americans think, there is no plan to install Islamic sharia law in the US. Sharia law is often not even applied in countries with Muslim majorities, such as Egypt, Morocco and Jordan. And contrary to what many Shiites think, the Sunni masses do not seek to exterminate them in a repeat of Karbala. Contrary to what Russians think, America is not out to bully them, and homosexuality does not threaten Russian traditions. Contrary to what Christians think, their dwindling fortunes in the Levant are not due to Muslim or Saudi or Iranian machinations, but rather their own corrupt tribal chiefs who amass fortunes at their expense.
In Lebanon, March 14 has been one of the biggest scams in the history of the republic. After the 2005 shakeup with the killing of Rafiq Hariri and the withdrawal of Syrian troops, Lebanon’s oligarchs fell out over who would inherit the Syrian fiefdom. Hezbollah told the oligarchs to toy with state resources and continue lining their pockets, on condition they leave intelligence and military affairs to the Party of God. March 14, at times with regional agitation, turned down Hezbollah’s offer and got accordingly pounded.
Some of those oligarchs would even go on to be killed. What was most unfortunate was the murder of those who deeply believed March 14 offered a chance to bring justice, liberty and the rule of law. In hindsight, honest activists like Samir Kassir, George Hawi, Walid Eido, and Mohamed Chatah, among others, were the ones who sacrificed their lives for a cause that is now all but lost.
Congratulations to Lebanon’s oligarchy for making up and resuming embezzlement, this time perhaps on an unprecedented scale, and hard luck for all the Lebanese, American, Russian and Iranian average citizens who believe their billionaire leaders will ever improve their lives. You have been duped.