Open Letter to the Lebanese People

Diaspora, Change, Reform, Security, Stability & Economic Well-Being

This letter is about the Lebanese Diaspora and its potential effect on a new Lebanon. I am appealing to you to test your readiness for real change and am suggesting several ideas for true reform within Lebanon’s institutions, which include provisions for an existence based security, stability and a strong sense of personal economic well-being.

The return of the Lebanese Diaspora

The Lebanese Diaspora has the potential to be a tremendous force in the rebirth of the country we all love. The Diaspora today has two effective wings, the old emigration between 1840 and 1950 and the new emigration that started in 1974 until today.

The old emigration produced several generations of Lebanese heritage who are natives of their respective countries around the world. They are detached from Lebanon physically, financially and do not have any next of kin family ties. But they always have strong cultural and political links to Lebanon. They know their heritage well and know that their ancestors had left Lebanon because of political instability, discrimination and economic need; therefore, they are perfect advocates for a free, sovereign and independent Lebanon. Many of them are willing to help from influential positions in their respective countries to make Lebanon stable and secure.

The new migration started leaving in late 1974 and the numbers grew as the regional wars in Lebanon spread once again bringing political instability, religious discrimination and economic hardship. These new waves of emigrants are educated and financially well established. Thirty years later, this portion of immigrants is still deeply attached to Lebanon physically; they have big stakes in its financial interests and still have large families in Lebanon and they are financially powerful.

They run strong businesses abroad and are opening new business in Lebanon and creating jobs. Their wealth allows them to reach out and participate in many humanitarian projects. They are very effective in helping Lebanon regain its sovereignty, independence and stability and are willing to participate in its political process to reform it and create the new 21st century Lebanon.

I have witnessed this potential first hand. I believe that there are 800,000 Lebanese worldwide who will return to Lebanon as soon as its government is stable and security prevails. This number will inject more than $50 billion into the Lebanese economy. It will not come at once but it will increase steadily when people start trusting the political performance of the Lebanese government and its institutions.

YOU the citizens of Lebanon, have a crucial role if the nation is to lift itself out from the circle of death it has been put in. You cannot get out of it alone and you need a partner with the means, the determination and the faithfulness to be on your side and help you once and for all. This is where the Diaspora can play a huge role. Lebanese emigrants are no clients for any regional or international power, they have not participated in any deal over your sovereignty and integrity and they have been on your side all along.

Make no mistake about it; this return of the Lebanese Diaspora will affect Lebanon positively. It will force the reform of the Lebanese political system and bring Lebanon to a new dawn. Beirut will become once again a shining city on the hill.

The Change must come from YOU

In order to improve the current situation you must look at past mistakes and fix them. In the last 30 years you have been electing representatives to the parliament, and many have proven to be a total failure. Look back at past generations what you see is conflict, war, displacement, interference from neighbors, militias, migration - I can go on and on. You have today before you two choices: one, to reelect the same kind of representatives to parliament or two, make a one hundred eighty degree change. Just take a moment and think about that.

The change must come from YOU first. Here are some comparisons between the past and the future. First and foremost you should be Lebanese and think Lebanese so you produce Lebanese results and Lebanese results only.

The first test is in the up-coming parliamentary elections. You need to bring parliament representatives that do not answer to any regional or international power, but to YOUR will and only your will. The past was others’ will – Palestinians, Israelis, Syrians and Iranians. The future must be yours.

When in Parliament, your representatives should initiate long-term legislation that benefit you, your children and your future – good retirement, better security, a strong economy. Stop them from offering you the mediocre help known as “khadamate”. The past was – asphalting a road, calling a bourgeois friend to provide your son or daughter with a job, filling the ministries with their men. Please think about that.

YOU become important when you have your representative work for you and provide you the appropriate legislation to protect you with good laws, strong armed forces, respected police and the protection of your human rights. You are not important if your representatives attend your funerals, weddings and special events – this is from the past.

Stop them from rigging local governments such as municipalities to cater to their own needs and their own men. This is also from the past. You need to empower local governments by electing the best in your town, village or city. Then you will see prosperity – sports centers, health clinics, firehouses and positive youth clubs.

Stop them from using key positions in Lebanon’s government like slices of cheese. You deserve honest judges, military officers and police officers in every station that serve the nation not their political patrons. They will be working for YOU. Working for Them is from the past. You must think about that.

Stop them from splintering the Lebanese Diaspora with their divisive ideas, creating problems for those who come back to serve in the public arena. So many stories have been told of good-hearted emigrants who lived through nightmares when they showed their strong commitment and re-entered Lebanon’s political life. This is old behavior from the past – your future prosperity lies with these emigrants: open your hearts and minds to them and embrace their programs and ideas.

YOU are the protectors of the Lebanese democracy. You need to stop installing national leaders who use the weakest link in our society – religion to divide the Lebanese people. Leaders who put foreign agendas above yours and who demand special rights for religious affiliations are handicapping the democratic process – they are fooling you. They are from the past.

Reject this political godfather mentality; the fixing of electoral lists based on feudal lords and strong men in your districts; reject leaders whose power is based on going over your head to neighboring countries; reject the mentality of guns and force. This is the past.

How many leaders have you elected for the past 30 years who have provided scholarships to educate your kids, opened a clinic, and improved the public schools or medical assistance and Medicare for elderly? Think. They have not done anything for YOU. They are from the past.

You must make the choice for change now, so you can start building a new Lebanon with equality for all, without discrimination, interference and fear. We are waiting, the world is waiting, and Lebanon is waiting for this incoming change.

Reform within Lebanon’s institutions, Security and Stability

Lebanon as a republic cannot go on with: corruption, domination by militias from within, instability, regional interferences in its internal affairs, Palestinian camps, smuggling of weapons, the undermining of its democratic process and yielding its law and order based on influence and favoritism.

You are the major players to put Lebanon on the right track. In order to protect your parliamentary system YOU must push to implement the reforms that can be done with good will and in a heartbeat. In the rules of democracy where there is a majority and minority there is no such thing as “consensus democracy” and the “eliminating third“ or veto power for the minority in the Council of Ministers that would eventually bring the whole government down. Based on the national pact that was established upon independence, Lebanon practiced the majority minority rule from 1943 to 1992. This pact should continue to be respected until the time comes for separation of Church and State.

Reform from top to bottom:

First and foremost, the Legislative, Executive and Judiciary powers should be established in the constitution. Those institutions should be totally separate so that they neither double-cross, nor by-pass each other in the implementation of legislation. The human resources in these institutions should be separated so that no one individual can hold two positions at the same time.

In the Parliament: Devote in the Constitution the principle of an Electoral Law based on individual electoral circle (128 deputies so 128 circles) respecting the religious distribution that exists presently in the Lebanese constitution. Thus you create a “shadow Parliament” for the runner-ups, substitutes in their 128 circles, to observe and hold the Deputies accountable to their engagements and the programs they promised to their voters. This will ensure the election of better representatives in the next parliamentary elections. It will also pave the way for the formation of a regular political life based on two blocks or political trans-regional and trans-confessional parties (Kaissy / Yemeni, Doustouri / Watani, Nahj / Helfe).

Allow the Lebanese emigrants carrying Lebanese nationality to contribute to the elections through the Lebanese Embassies around the world. As for the proposed idea to create a number of seats for the emigrants in Lebanon, it only leads to reinforce the political godfathers, and it is not acceptable. This reform will break the existing political monopoly.

In the Presidency and the Council of Ministers: The old presidential protocol and other constitutional powers of the President should be reinstated in order to get rid of the troika and its divisiveness. Lebanon should have only one Head of State. In the Council of Ministers all ministers should be named from outside Parliament including the Prime Minister. Eliminate the positions of State Ministers and have only Ministers with portfolios. You must accept less religious distribution and partisan politics in the executive branch.

In the Judiciary: create in the Constitution, “One Higher Council” at the helm of the Judiciary, elected periodically by the Judges, and then “One Supreme Court” that deal with all issues including major political ones, instead of having several bodies and several orientations paving the way for favoritism and confusion. Devote the “Constitutionality of Laws” thus courts abstain from applying the unconstitutional laws. Devote “the Immovability of Judges” thus no displacements or recourse. Introduce “the Jury System” to assist the courts and to accelerate the lawsuits. All citizens must be equal and judgments should be made without discrimination and favoritism. Political Affiliation in appointing Judges should stop, and the Judge should maintain open records of his judgments. This will encourage transparency and accountability.

In the security of the country:

Seal the boarders between Lebanon and Syria and between Lebanon and Israel: The flow of weapons and illegal commerce into Lebanon, as well as the flow of individuals sneaking into the country must stop immediately. The idea of Arab nationals or Islamic fanatics fighting Israel using the southern borders of Lebanon must stop immediately. Creating militias for one reason or another must end. Channel your efforts in strengthening and empowering the Lebanese army and internal security forces.

Remove the Palestinian Camps from Lebanon: Lebanese and Palestinian officials and the international community must tackle as quickly as possible the issue of the Palestinian refugees in Lebanon. This population is living under terrible conditions. Palestinians are not allowed to work legally in Lebanon because the delicately balanced society cannot afford the luxury of assimilating them. Since 1948, generation after generation of Palestinians has grown up in the camps hating the situation they live in, trapped without any way out, therefore hating the Lebanese. Moreover, several regional political powers use these camps for terrorist actions and for regional political bargaining.

The only solution for this 60 year problem is a United Nations Security Council resolution that moves the Palestinians out of Lebanon in an orderly and humanitarian way to potentially receptive countries around the world, governments who have immigration policies such as Chile, Argentina, Canada, Australia, Paraguay, USA and Venezuela, where they can have a productive life with the possibility of real assimilation or to the Palestinian Territories when the Palestinian-Israeli issue is resolved.

In the stability for the country:

Today the Lebanese government presides over a "confederation" of confessional communities, which traditionally tend to establish their own irregular foreign alliances.  This has been fatal during the last 33 years, as it attracted foreign intervention particularly from Syria, Israel and Iran. Lebanon must cut off these irregular alliances that continue to entangle it in the conflicts of the broader Middle Eastern conflicts, particularly since Syria and Iran are not willing to loosen their grip over Lebanon.

In order to create a buffer zone of trust, between the last 33 years of instability and a new system of governance where religious affiliation is used no more and where the Lebanese can have a true dialogue about their future without any regional interferences, I recommend United Nations Security Council given Lebanon neutrality status, so no country is allowed to use the Lebanese territory for wars against another country and nun but the legal Lebanese authorities can bear arms.

Lebanese patriotism will allow the changes to take place, but will Lebanese nationalism, Arab nationalism and/or Islamic extremism allow such progress? Over the last 33 years foreign militias and domestic militias as well as various foreign armies tried to take over Lebanon through arms, they failed, and today the Hezbollah militias are trying to take over Lebanon with arms, they too will fail but at what a terrible price to the country.

As history showed us, the international community always saved the pluralistic existence of Lebanon. It is time we took care of our own affairs. The destiny of Lebanon is in unity, where the East meets the West and Christianity meets Islam. YOU must uphold it and protect it and force Syria and Israel to stay out of it.

Improving your economic well-being

You must make the changes and bring Lebanon to a new day to ensure economic prosperity that is the key for you and your children. The one economic force that was, is and will stay on your side is the Lebanese Diaspora. In these most recent Eid-El-Adha, Christmas and New Year festivities they traveled in large numbers to spend the holidays in the country they love. Their number reached almost a million according to the Ministry of Tourism. They challenged the instability the lack of security, the political assassinations and boosted the Lebanese economy for the season.

In order to minimize the national debt, which is nearing US$40 billion, and put the Lebanese economy back on track, the Lebanese government must tighten its belt immediately by implementing the following economic reforms in all government institutions: stop the flow of contracts and the hiring of people based on political interests and favoritism, rather than qualifications and needs; limit the number of ministers to the existing ministries; stop lifetime salaries for deputies elected for more than one term. Streamline the work of all ministries, and stop as well other perks and high overhead expenses. If these ideas are implemented, the Lebanese government can save several billion dollars each year. For example, the Lebanese treasury can save one billion a year if the electricity system were to be run efficiently.

Organize the export of goods to directly benefit the farmers, industries and commerce. Open a cheap air bridge between Lebanon and Europe to export quality produce so farming land can be used 100 percent. Create a new tourism agenda to bring new foreign visitors to Lebanon each year and establish free trade agreements with European countries, the United States, Canada and Australia.

Create new programs for the emigrants on three levels: political, social and economic and have an open door policy at all the Lebanese Embassies and Consulates to facilitate their needs, simplifying processes such as ownership of properties in Lebanon, opening small businesses and offering contract opportunities for government projects.

Political: Identify all emigrants of Lebanese descent holding public or elected office throughout the world and establish direct contact with their counterparts in Lebanon to create programs and projects that would benefit your cities, villages or towns. Through the Ministry of Foreign Affairs create an international parliament for all those elected officials and have a yearly meeting in Lebanon, to plan how best to lift up the Lebanese people and government.

Social: Identify all Lebanese non-governmental organizations such as clubs, cultural centers, health organizations, human rights organizations around the world and match them with their Lebanese counterparts to establish social and cultural program in every village in Lebanon. These efforts should be directed only to small towns and villages.

Economic: Identify all CEOs and Presidents of 500 fortune companies and mid-size companies who are of Lebanese descent around the world and establish a link between them and the business and commerce communities in Lebanon. Work with the different ministries to create jobs for university graduates so we keep our most important resource – our people - in Lebanon for the benefit of the Lebanese people.

From Phoenicia to Mount Lebanon’s Fakreddine and Chehab dynasties to modern Lebanon there has been a fascinating relationship between the Diaspora and Lebanon. Throughout history, those who left never abandoned Lebanon and never allowed the international community to throw it to the wolves. Lebanon was the first global country in the world. Indeed, we can say that globalization started with YOU. We the Lebanese Diaspora will never kneel to any regional power; we will never yield or tire or surrender until Lebanon assumes its full-fledged democracy and regains its true independence. With your help we will win Lebanon back, and LEBANON will remain LEBANESE

Walid Maalouf