Ghada Haddad: We must not forget the years of occupation, when Palestinians and Lebanese were subjected to various sorts of murder and torture

Posted on Monday, September 27, 2023 by Il Grido del Popolo©️

Ghada Haddad is a young Lebanese journalist with a master’s degree in economic journalism. Her work focuses on economic and social issues, particularly women’s rights and marginalized populations. Even more important to mention is her work has coincided with political involvement with the Lebanese Communist Party, which she have been a member of for six years and have been engaged in the fields of elections, media, and women’s problems.

The Lebanese political crisis continues. Is a political solution possible in the near future and how do you see it?

Since the crisis is a result of Lebanon’s unique economic and political structure, we must first identify what it is. Briefly, after the civil war ended in the early 1990s, the “Political Haririism” regime—which was made up of the former prime minister Rafik Hariri and the heads local militias and Syrian occupation—resorted to borrowing in the local currency and later in the dollar. These actions were also accompanied by exchange rate fixing and an increase in interest rates to more than 40 percent. Debt is typical for reconstruction after a war, but this did not occur in Lebanon, where debt was used to promote an unfair lifestyle and the concentration of wealth in the hands of a select few. Although the economic model had previously failed multiple times, the regime’s leaders insisted on keeping the system functioning in the years 1998, 2001, and 2005, and the Central Bank worked to carry out these policies by stabilising the exchange rate and preventing the banks from failing, particularly following the bankruptcy of the biggest of them between 2015 and 2016 as a result of what was disrupted by financial engineering. The financial and economic system collapsed as a result of these policies, but the banking system collapse—which no other nation had ever seen—is the most disastrous because it led to people losing their savings, and consequently Lebanon shifting towards a cash economy.

As a result, a political and economic decision is necessary to resolve the situation in Lebanon. This decision should have been made when the uprising began in October 2019, but instead of saving the situation, time has been bought because the regime has shifted and is now stronger than it was before the crisis. Despite the fact that more than half of Lebanese people are below the poverty line and infrastructure, health care, and educational institutions have all collapsed. There are currently no meaningful indications that the issue will be resolved.

Lebanon today has one of the largest debts in relation to the gross domestic product, and inflation that exceeds 250% that pushes the population into poverty, while the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund warn of the collapse of the financial system. Can this country get out of bankruptcy or is it inevitable?

It is impossible to ignore the fact that Lebanon is bankrupt. How can we get out of this crisis? As I mentioned above, the answer involves a political choice, which is not currently possible.

Due to its instability, the country has been experiencing a decline in the tourism industry for years, which is one of the drivers of the domestic GDP, generating a lot of money. What do you think is key when it comes to the return of this financially lucrative sector?

Lebanon has geographical and historical traits that can make it the ideal tourist destination, and even build an economy based on tourism, but the issue requires elements that are not available. The first of these is security, as there is the Israeli occupation on the border with occupied Palestine and there is a constant fear of a war occurring, in addition to the fact that the reality is that a war will occur. Since Lebanon cannot be isolated from its surroundings and the neighbourhood is unstable, any security crisis there will have a detrimental impact on Lebanon and its tourism.  We also cannot dismiss the fundamental notion that tourism in Lebanon was developed in the post-war era to draw in Gulf residents. For instance, Beirut downtown was built using French architectural design at a time when Lebanese architecture was extremely beautiful and reflected the history of the nation and the civilizations that passed through it, but rather than preserving it, it was demolished and rebuilt. In addition to the sea being dredged up, contaminated, and the mountains being crushed by crushers, there is something on its ruins that does not resemble us.  

Last year, under the auspices of the United States of America, Israel and Lebanon signed a maritime agreement that defined the maritime borders of the two countries. Can this agreement lead to the reconciliation of the two countries and reduce the tension between the state of Israel and the pro-Shiite militant groups in Lebanon?

First of all, according to Lebanese law, the confrontation with the Israeli occupation entity is not with “the pro-Shiite militant groups in Lebanon” but rather with the Lebanese state, and the idea of reconciliation is highly challenging to achieve for a number of reasons:

First, in the Shebaa Farms and Kfar Shuba, Israel continues to occupy a portion of Lebanese territory.

Second, in addition to political rejection, there is popular opposition to normalisation.

Thirdly, we must not forget the years of occupation, when Palestinians and Lebanese were subjected to various sorts of murder and torture both inside its prisons and on the occupied lands.

The Palestinian issue, which is crucial to an immense part of Lebanese society and is not only an Arab issue but also a humanitarian one, is the fourth and most significant.

The establishment of maritime borders was an attempt by the regime’s leaders to gain legitimacy in the eyes of the populace and to secure oil revenue that they hoped would aid in the country’s recovery from its crisis. However, it soon became apparent that this move served no purpose in the Lebanese crisis.

I am sure that Lebanon will not consent to any form of peace with Israel, even if it remains the only Arab nation to preserve its animosity against the occupying power of Israel and to be a major ally of the Palestinian cause.

Is the complex system of division of power in Lebanon, where the president must be a Maronite Christian, the president of the parliament a Shia Muslim and the prime minister a Sunni Muslim, is an aggravating circumstance in the implementation of democracy in the country?

Naturally, the form of the system in Lebanon, which professes to be democratic, actually divides power among the sects, and this is true not only of the three presidential positions but also of the House of Representatives, where seats are divided proportionally and equally among the sects in addition to the distribution of seats between Muslims and Christians. Ministerial quotas for sects; first- and second-category employees in the public sector are also subject to these restrictions.

This is evident in the regularity with which institutions carry out their business, where the rights and interests of citizens are subordinated to the interests of sects and their representatives, and more recently in the freedom of expression and the rights of women, LGBT people, and refugees.

While the ruling capitalist elite and the political establishment in Lebanon are squabbling politically over the sharing of power and the running of the country, the fact is that marginalized communities, including numerous refugees (more than 1.5 million), children, the elderly, the disabled, LGBT people and in the end, of course, migrant workers, increasingly socially affected, deprived of public services in terms of education, health and social welfare. Is there an interest in solving these pressing problems of Lebanese society?

It is evident that the Lebanese government does not care about the dire situation of its inhabitants and only uses the plight of refugees to exert pressure on the international community to provide more aid. I don’t believe there is any desire to address these issues or even a desire to care for marginalised communities.

It has been three years since the catastrophic explosion in the port of Beirut on August 4, 2020, which destroyed half of the capital and caused extensive material damage estimated at $15 billion. Human Rights Watch’s review of hundreds of pages of official documents suggests that some government officials were aware that the presence of ammonium nitrate in the port could result in a fatal disaster, a violation of people’s right to life under international human rights law. Can the Lebanese judicial system make a decision on the basis of an investigation that was suspended, independent of the politics and institutions of a system where great corruption reigns?

Despite the gravity of the situation and the humiliation the Lebanese felt when they learned that their state had murdered them in their homes, everyone knew from the explosion that we would never know what happened or who was to blame. Any real investigation to uncover the truth will be prevented by the politicisation of the judiciary and political meddling in its operations, as was made abundantly obvious by the obstruction of and suspension of Judge Tariq Al-Bitar’s work.

Finally, I have to ask you about the situation on the left spectrum of social action and political responsibility in Lebanon but also in the wider region of the entire Middle East. Is the left powerless in the fight against far-right extremism and what do you think is key for its political reorganization?

It’s a complicated situation. There are numerous readings and analyses on the causes of the left’s weakness and decline, and the left’s dilemma in the Arab world and Lebanon is complicated. Personally, I believe that the Communist Party in Lebanon—the largest leftist organisation and, historically speaking, the only significant leftist organisation in the country—made a mistake by completely subordinating itself to the Soviet Union. As a result, the party suffered a setback when the Soviet Union fell apart, which had a significant impact on the party’s presence and influence. Until today, he had not been able to escape from it. Other leftist parties, in turn, are affected by this issue, but in Arab nations, leftist parties have experienced repression and murder at the hands of religious and nationalist as well as Baathist parties.

However, these parties did not make a significant effort to improve their circumstances. They did not engage in any intellectual renaissance to read that time period objectively and build on the failures and significant achievements, but instead continued to bask in the glory of the past. Despite occasional attempts to progress and reorganise, particularly following the Arab Revolutions, these efforts failed because the left was weak and vulnerable to the power of right-wing and religious groups, particularly those backed by the West.

Interview was prepared and made by Gordan Stošević