Worried Lebanese

thought crumbs on lebanese and middle eastern politics

Is Lebanon a failed state?

Posted by worriedlebanese on 15/07/2011

“By most common metrics Lebanon is essentially a failed state”. With these words Ghassan Karam began a post on Hezbollah on one of his blogs: Rational Republic. And as you might expect, that sentence started my blood boiling. Failed state?! by what common metrics?! I asked him the question and started looking into the indicators commonly used to assess if a State is failed or not…

Lebanon's evolution on the Failed State Index

The expression went mainstream thanks to the US’s foreign policy, notably its military interventions in Somalia (Restore Hope in 1992) and in Afghanistan (Enduring Freedom in 2001). Noam Chomsky in his book Failed States: The Abuse of Power and the Assault on Democracy (Metropolitan books, 2006) being the semanticist that he is, showed the uses and abuses of this qualification by the American administration. So we know that the expression was quite useful to the US. But does that condemn the expression to an instrumental use in politics? Can it help us otherwise better understand the countries that are designated as “failed states” ? Let’s look into some indicators before trying to see how pertinent and significant it is to call Lebanon a failed state. I came across these indicators developed by the Fund For Peace for its annual index of Failed States: Demographic Pressures, Refugees & IDPs, Group Grievances, Human Flight & Brain Drain, Uneven Economic Development, Poverty & Economic Decline, Legitimacy of the State, Public Services, Human Rights & Rule of Law, Security Apparatus, Factionalized Elites, and External Intervention.

Looking into their index, we notice that they ranked Lebanon #43 in 2011, after ranking us #34 in 2010, #29 in 2009, #18 in 2008. So basically, we’re climbing higher and higher in the ranking… so things are looking good for us, if we trust these results. But do we? Does anyone feel a sense of positive progress in Lebanon? I know I don’t. So either my impressions are wrong or the Fund For Peace rating lacks accuracy or pertinence.
I’m not going to look into the relevance of each indicator, nor the way that each one has been measured. I’m just going to point out to two basic problems in this type of approach:

  • Its normative aspect. Lying behind the stated indicators are the assumptions on how a state should be.  And quite obviously, this model doesn’t take into account multi-ethnic societies where national identity cannot erase communal identities, and civic ties do not eliminate communal ties. But these are not necessarily mutually exclusive categories, regardless of what our “analysts” or should I say doctrinaires keep on rehashing.
  • Its dependence on exterior, or visible markers while some dynamics are less overt but sometimes more significant. How much informal politics can it monitor or grasp? How deep is its access to information?

A blog entry is no place to look into the accuracy of such processed data or the pertinence of the indicators. But let’s me say a word about the usage of this designation.

“Failed State” as Name-calling: anti-confessionalism’s new cloak
Those who claim that Lebanon is a failed state are usually the same people who argue that there is no citizenship (or citizen rights) in Lebanon… This approach is actually quite prevalent in Lebanon. A friend of mine sums it up under the heading “وين الدولة” (“where is the state”) which is often heard on television and on the streets when citizens voice their grievance. This claim about the state’s absence is equally widespread in academic and NGO circles. And so we hear “نحو المواطنية”، “بناء دولة القانون والمؤسسات”، “القيام بالدولة “، “من اجل المواطنية”… as if neither state nor citizenship existed. This approach is undeniably normative. It goes beyond expressing one’s dissatisfaction with the state’s performance. Actually, it circumvents this question by denying the very existence of the state or citizenship. The reason why the state’s existence (or citizenship) is denied is not grounded on facts. Any liberal would rightly argue that there is actually too much state in Lebanon. It’s an abstract, normative judgement based on a specific idea of what a State (or citizenship) should look like. It all boils down to the fact that many people are displeased by some feature of the Lebanese state that they attribute to what people call “confessionalism”, or more derogatorily  “sectarianism” or more neutrally “communalism”. So all this name-calling is actually grounded on a dislike of communalism in all its manifestation, social, legal, political. Paradoxically, the same people who combat communalism pride themselves in Lebanese diversity. So basically, they want to celebrate plural society but fight any of its manifestations.

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2 Responses to “Is Lebanon a failed state?”

  1. guess said

    Linguistically eloquent post….

    Nevertheless, if with all what is going around you , you still insist that Lebanon doesn’t suffer of a lack of “nationalism”, then either you are not looking close enough or you are attempting to apply your personal experience on the whole society. In other words, If I am living well, then all others must be living well also. We call that a logical fallacy.
    Leave aside what the NGOs like to rumble about, if you have enough strength, patience and objectivity to take a good profound look on the dynamics of the society you live in, you should notice that something is terribly wrong.
    Denying the problem, doesn’t usually solve it. But I guess you already know that.

    Lack of citizenship and/or nationalism has nothing to do with “where is the state” . In fact “where is the state” is a direct and obvious consequence of the lack of citizenship. The high ethical and moral corruption and their related symptoms are in fact deeply rooted in our new found culture. Corruption in the government is nothing compared to the irreparable corruption in the private sector, in other words the corruption dominating day to day interaction of supposedly citizens of the same state.

    Just because we live on the same land and share the same passport, doesn’t mean we act in citizen like manner towards each other.
    In fact citizenship involves a great deal of responsibility towards the society , its public order and laws , which one is supposedly a part of.
    Take a close look and tell me that is not missing.

    Your argument that this must be just the case of several people displeased by some feature of the lebanese state and the problem is in them and not the state is very weak. I greatly doubt as I have already mentioned , that you are attempting to generalize your apparently “more comfortable” life to others. That in itself seems to demonstrate a lack of citizenship (i.e responsibility towards others and public order).

    Mr Worried Lebanese,
    Understand your country’s history properly, detach yourself emotionally when there is a need for an objective opinion, isolate and identify problems so you can solve them. Self criticism is necessary when one needs to evolve.
    To act as if you’re constantly in denial doesn’t help. To claim all is good when it isn’t , is definitely not smart.

    • Dear Anonymous,
      Are you sure that you’ve taken to time to actually read my post? Judging from your “comment”, it seems not. NOWHERE do I speak of nationalism (that you seem to confuse with citizenship), and I never claim that “all is well” in Lebanon. My point is quite the opposite. I believe there is something definitely wrong in the country, however I believe the “diagnosis” that some people make is equally wrong. Picture a patient who suffers from diabetes who is taken to hospital and wrongly diagnosed with cancer. Denouncing his misdiagnose doesn’t mean that he is healthy! It simply means that the doctors were wrong.
      With this clarification in mind, I invite you to read my post and react to the arguments I actually made.

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