PODCAST | ep9 | with Melani Cammett, Carmen Geha, Nate George, and Lana Salman
Lebanon has been called many different things: a gem of the Middle East, a failed state, a geopolitical Gordian knot (or nightmare). Its financial system has recently collapsed, people cannot find basic services, and residents are still recovering from the massive Beirut explosion of 2020. It may be a complex country to wrap your mind around, but our four scholars tell you everything you need to know about daily life in Lebanon: how are people getting by, who is in control, the geopolitics of the region, and the history behind it.
Listen to episode #9 (34:35) by clicking the play button below:
Lana Salman shares a detailed account of daily life in Lebanon, where people must wait hours in line to obtain goods and services. The civil uprising really began back in October 2019, and it was different from others, explains Carmen Geha, because it was so widespread. Citizen protests have continued since then, and have increased in the aftermath of the Beirut explosion in 2020 for which no one has taken responsibility, they note.
After decades of witnessing corruption at the highest levels, the Lebanese may be at a tipping point. Geha and Salman share examples of citizens creating their own organizations to address humanitarian needs, as an alternative to relying on the default sectarian sponsored hand-outs.
To understand the levers of control, Melani Cammett explains the power-sharing structure of the government, and she and Geha emphasize that the current leaders are the unpunished perpetrators of war crimes (“warlords”) from the chaotic, multiparty Lebanese civil war (1975–1990).
Nate George offers important background on the steps leading up to the current financial crisis and describes the geopolitical crossroads Lebanon occupies today in the Middle East. He also explains why Western countries are no longer eager to support Lebanon during the current fiscal crisis.
Lebanon indeed has a complex history and remains an important player in the Middle East. With a mix of anecdote and history, our conversation is a sobering primer on the many layers and realities of Lebanon.
Erin Goodman, Director, Weatherhead Scholars Program.
Melani Cammett, Director, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs; Clarence Dillon Professor of International Affairs, Department of Government, Harvard University; Professor in the Department of Global Health and Population, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Carmen Geha, Visiting Scholar, Weatherhead Scholars Program (fall 2021). Associate Professor of Public Administration, Department of Political Studies and Public Administration, American University of Beirut.
Nate George, Raphael Morrison Dorman Memorial Postdoctoral Fellow, Weatherhead Scholars Program. PhD, Department of History, Rice University.
Lana Salman, Postdoctoral Research Fellow, Middle East Initiative, Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs.
Michelle Nicholasen, Editor and Content Producer, Weatherhead Center for International Affairs.
- “The United States and the Middle East” by Nate George (America in the World, 1776 to the Present: A Supplement to the Dictionary of American History, Charles Scribner’s Sons, 2016)
- “Commitment to the “National” in Post-Conflict Countries: Public and Private Security in Lebanon” by Melani Cammett, Dominika Kruszewska, Christiana Parreira, and Sami Atallah (Journal of Conflict Resolution, forthcoming 2022)
- “Coethnicity Beyond Clientelism: Insights from an Experimental Study on Religion and Political Behavior in Lebanon” by Melani Cammett, Dominika Kruszewska, Christiana Parreira, and Sami Atallah (Politics & Religion, forthcoming 2022)
- “Debtscapes: The Politics of Social Reproduction in the Post-Revolution City” by Lana Salman (Paper, Middle East Initiative, August 2021)
- Civil Society and Political Reform in Lebanon and Libya: Transition and Constraint by Carmen Geha (Routledge, 2016)
ERIN GOODMAN: Welcome to the Epicenter podcast from the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University. I'm your host, Erin Goodman, Director of the Weatherhead Scholars Program. Today, our subject is Lebanon.
To understand Lebanon is to untangle a knot of geopolitical and sectarian interests that span a century. Once a progressive bulwark in the Middle East and a strong Western ally, Lebanon today is in freefall. Its economy has crashed in the wake of what's been called a massive state sponsored Ponzi scheme. It's been called a failed state because it's lost its capacity to provide basic services to its citizens. And now the country suffers from a 78% poverty level.
Clientelism seems to prevail with sectarian organizations often giving their members preferential access to basic services, like health care and food. Once labeled the Paris of the Middle East, today the city of Beirut is in crisis. In the summer of 2020, a massive explosion at the port decimated homes and lives. Protesters have faced serious violence.
While all of this plays out, the US has provided humanitarian aid along with Iran, Saudi Arabia, France, and the UK. Yet it's still short of what's needed. But there's also a growing sense among the Lebanese that enough is enough and they want reform. Today we'll be talking to four scholars who know Lebanon well-- its conflictual history, its government and financial system, and the spirit of its people.
Melani Cammett is Director of the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs, as well as the Clarence Dillon Professor of International Affairs at the Department of Government at Harvard, and a professor in the Department of Global Health and Population at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
A recent fellow in the Weatherhead Scholars Program, Carmen Geha is Associate Professor of Public Administration in the Department of Political Studies and Public Administration at the American University of Beirut. Also a fellow in the Weatherhead Scholars Program, Nate George is the Raphael Morrison Dorman Memorial Postdoctoral Fellow, and previously was a postdoctoral fellow at Columbia University's Center for Palestine Studies.
Lana Salman is a postdoctoral research fellow with the Middle East Initiative at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs. Before pursuing her doctoral studies at the University of California Berkeley, Dr. Salman served as a consultant to the Chief Technical Advisor of the Lebanese Prime Minister. And was an urban specialist at the World Bank. Lana, let's start with you. Can you describe what everyday life is like today in Lebanon?
LANA SALMAN: Well, life is very difficult. By which, I mean specifically in terms of providing the basic services and the basic things that make life function-- fuel for heating, gas to start up your car and go to work, medicine if you're sick, food to eat-- really basic things.
And what's happening right now, I think, is-- and was much more serious and severe-- but is still very severe is the weaponization of time. By which, I mean people queue for hours, for example, to fill their gas, to fill their cars with gas to be able to move. People have to spend an entire day calling up different pharmacies and checking at different pharmacies to be able to access medicine to treat their illnesses.
And people have to also queue or call many providers for fuel for heating, for example. And there are two things that come up from this weaponization of time. And by weaponization, I mean that time here becomes a means of slow violence. This is a concept that scholar, Rob Nixon, came up with. And slow violence is a very protracted, distributed form of violence over time and space that is not considered violence at all, but that its repetition and its perseverance over time really demobilizes against the explosive forms of violence and the spectacular forms of violence we know.
But you can imagine that if you are queuing for seven hours, twice a week, to fill up your car with gas, you do not actually have energy or time to mobilize, to contest, to protest. If you are worried about where you're going to get the medicine for your chronic illnesses next, you're not going to be able to even have the bandwidth to think how you can fight the system because you're constantly busy, attending to these very immediate needs.
And it doesn't end, right? Once you provide the medicine for this month, you have to start thinking about providing it for the next month. Once you fill your car with gas this week, then you have to think about it for the next few days also. This also happened-- the same thing also happens in banks, by preventing small depositors from withdrawing their dollars banks.
And going to the bank to withdraw money in dollars-- so there were particular amounts set that people were able to withdraw per month. And you had to go, again, line up for hours at the bank to actually withdraw your money. So if you account for all the time people spend waiting to get things, queuing to get things, you can imagine how it becomes then impossible to actually think of changing the system.
ERIN GOODMAN: Carmen, Lebanon is no stranger to dissent. But the protests that started 2 and 1/2 years ago were unprecedented in recent times. Could you say more about that?
CARMEN GEHA: But what happened in October 2019, I think, nobody had predicted, including me. I had spent years arguing why Lebanon's power sharing system is so evasive to the Arab uprisings and all. So what we saw, really, from the North to the South of Lebanon was quite unprecedented. Even for those of us that live there and work there, it was really something amazing.
It was largely peaceful. It was led by regular folks in their neighborhoods that came out to say, enough and enough is enough. The October Revolution demands for accountability, the end of corruption, justice and equality under the law, of course, bothered the warlords that had invested everything they had to keep the system. This was October.
By early January, the banking system had collapsed. And to give a bit of a flavor, as Lana was saying, you have to queue in line to get out your money. That is, if you're not among, what was at the time, 50% poverty rate, now 78%. So the banking collapse happened and we started moving from the streets to queuing for money.
It's not that we only lost our money, but our parents' pension. I mean, essentially everything that you had in Lebanese bank now has turned to lira and the lira is worth nothing. Followed by the pandemic and the shutdown early March, and then the explosion in August that left 200 people or so-- we say or so because some people were never found-- dead, 6,000 wounded, and 300,000 households that were affected, combined with a total loss of purchasing power.
So the time that an average person-- I'm lucky, I work at a private university-- we were able to shut down the campus, follow the students to the streets. We said that the street has become the classroom. From my point of privilege, I don't have time anymore to protest. After the explosion, there was a massive move from street politics, I think, into three streams of activism.
The first is this widespread advocacy-- alternate unions, freedom of expression, investigation into the port. The second is this range of humanitarian institutions that focused on building homes, providing food, shelter, clinics, and schools. And the third stream is what we're seeing come together, who have chosen electoral politics as the way to face this dissent. So there's still a lot of these protesters. And a lot of the people that we know and that we met on the streets are either doing advocacy, volunteering in their free time, or trying to build coalitions for election.
In my opinion, the electoral path will take time and space, which Lebanon cannot afford. And what I mean by time and space is, really the freedom to have a narrative that is all encompassing, that is also contesting the Lebanese system. And that's very difficult to do in a country whose outspoken critics were systematically assassinated.
Yesterday, we commemorated Gibran Tueni. Lokman Slim was only a few months ago. All of these killers have one thing in common-- they killed people who stood against repression, who asked for sovereignty for Lebanon. And I think in the absence of time and space for real electoral politics, it's going to be difficult to make a breakthrough this time.
ERIN GOODMAN: Let's talk about how power sharing works in Lebanon Melani, can you explain the structure of governance and the political economy?
MELANI CAMMETT: Sure, yeah. As people may know, Lebanon is structured as a power sharing system, in which representation by different political groups aligned with different confessional or sectarian communities have inbuilt representation in the system. So the president is a Maronite Christian. The prime minister is a Sunni Muslim. And the speaker of the parliament is a Shia.
And this division across Muslim, Christian figures into the civil service, and the bureaucracy, and so forth, and the parliament. And it's structured into the electoral system so that at each district, there is a pre-allocated set of seats by sect, depending on the composition of the residents of that district. And interestingly, just as a footnote, women vote in the district of their fathers or their spouses.
And so you do have, to some degree, a mismatch as well between-- in addition to that-- a mismatch between where people live and where they vote in some parts of the country. So where your family originates from is often where you vote even if you no longer live there. So this affects some regions of the country more than others. But the important point here that's relevant to the crisis at hand is that there is this representation, pre-allocated, that gives different, largely sectarian parties, and politicians, and movements representation in the system.
And there are dominant politicians and parties that have controlled the levers of power for a very long time. Some of them were warlords perpetrating acts of violence during the civil war. And now they hold elected and non-elected positions in government. And they have a very strong lock on power. And their power is not just political, extends into the economy.
So there's been a fair amount of research over time, and particularly recently, tracing these networks of influence that span the political sector and the economic sphere. And so if you look at who controls the banking system and other key elements of the economy, you can often trace this back to key politicians. What does that mean? It means they have a vested interest in the status quo. They're resistant to change.
And so this system that has been predicated on a kind of Ponzi scheme, Erin has referenced, and has been described repeatedly, is very much in the interests of the politicians that have been holding office for a very long time.
ERIN GOODMAN: Lana, do you have a sense of what happened in the aftermath of recent protests related to the explosion? There must be a tension between demand for reform and dependency on the services provided by these sectarian groups which are connected to corrupt politicians.
LANA SALMAN: I wasn't there for all the protests, but I was there for some. And following up on the protests from afar, there's extreme police repression, imprisonment of activists, violence against them. And there's a counter-mobilization to actually get the activists out of jail when they are jailed, demonstrations in front of the internal security forces, like their headquarters.
So there's both. There's, I think, extreme violent repression and also this discourse. And on the other hand, the third thing is, I think, maintaining the status quo by, again, like my colleagues mentioned, by distributing-- by, again, mobilizing these networks, these established networks of service provision, to continue providing people with food or preferential access like, I don't know, when Hariri in Beirut gives owners of generators fuel to turn on their generators and provide electricity.
ERIN GOODMAN: You're referring to former prime minister, Saad Hariri, giving preference to the Sunnis. Is this still happening?
LANA SALMAN: These things are still going on. But I think the attitude about them is different now. It's like, they took-- these people took everything. Politicians, or the system, robbed people out of their life chances, basically. So what are these crumbs? Basically, people, I think, are more aware that these are-- although they can depend on them. I mean, these are not mutually exclusive. You can depend on this, but also consider it as crumbs, that you deserve better than actually Hariri redistributing fuel to generator owners.
And the question with Lebanon is not just the sectarianism, the power sharing structure, the fact that these people are materially invested in the status quo. But I think also this overlap, the neoliberal sectarianism, that overlap between an economic system that functions only based on emptying the state out of its institutions, right?
So there is a Lebanese-- and emptying the state out of its capacity for distribution for welfare and redirecting that through party systems, through sectarian systems, and reaping benefits out of the system. It functions because someone, somewhere is deriving profit out of this, and continues doing so. And on the other hand, someone needs these services. There is demand for them.
ERIN GOODMAN: Nate, I want to turn to you for help putting this recent financial crisis into historic perspective. Can you take us through the basis for the collapse of the financial system?
NATE GEORGE: It's usually dated back to the late '90s, the origins of this crisis, specifically the 1997 decision to fix the exchange rate of the Lebanese lira to the dollar, which was really a bold financial move by the prime minister, then prime minister, Rafik Hariri's choice for the head of the central bank, Riad Salameh.
This man's still in power today. And at that time, Lebanon had been devastated by a long, international civil war, which especially lasted between 1975 and '90, but really had crises, many crises, that preceded it and continued afterwards.
So the idea was to establish a confidence in the Lebanese system to get people to invest in it. So fixing the exchange rate to the dollar was one way of establishing economic confidence. But really, the depth and breadth of the problem is much deeper than that and really goes back to the origins of the very existence of the Lebanese state, which is now just a century old.
And I think it's really important to look at this question in a longer view. So from the inception of Lebanon to the present day, the ruling political economic class has really prioritized the banking and service sector as a cornerstone of the national economy over the productive sectors, whether agricultural or industrial. Lebanon produces virtually nothing of its own and imports virtually everything, in terms of consumer goods, from toothpaste to cars, to gasoline, everything.
This system was established in the colonial era of the mandates. But it was actually continued throughout the Arab era of independence. Especially because at the time of the French withdrawal and political independence in 1946, Lebanon had experienced a boom in servicing the allied armies in the Middle East of World War II. So the idea of Lebanon as a international place of exchange where money would come in and be distributed-- Lebanon would be an intermediary between Europe and the other Arab states, which had much less developed financial systems.
It appeared to be a good idea, especially for the owners of capital, and the banking system, and the political class, which is kind of all the same very tightly interlinked personal linkage between bankers and politicians, [INAUDIBLE], and importers and merchants, I should say.
So actually after independence in the 1950s, the power of the financial and mercantile elite was strengthened even further, especially by the adoption of banking secrecy law, which really entrenched the system of financial independence from any state oversight or any regulation at all. So the idea of a regulated banking sector, or even a minimum level of planned economic development in Lebanon, has been completely alien to the government policy for 100 years. And this is what really needs to change.
ERIN GOODMAN: Nate, I want to stay with you for this next question. What role does Lebanon play in the geopolitics of the Middle East? We know that Palestinians flooded into Lebanon after the war with Israel. And in Lebanon, they formed the resistance movement, the PLO. How did this set the stage for where we are now?
NATE GEORGE: After 1982, Israel invaded and ejected the PLO from Lebanon, but Lebanon remained occupied, especially the South. And this is where the rise of Hezbollah comes in, which became the leaders of the armed Islamic resistance. Whereas previously, it had been a more secular, nationalist resistance movement, Hezbollah led it in a different direction ideologically.
Now, the reason why Lebanon is geopolitically important, especially for the United States and its allied political camp, is seeking to deny and delimit the regional growth and power of Hezbollah.
ERIN GOODMAN: So it's a standoff between those who want to limit and those who want to support Hezbollah?
NATE GEORGE: In Lebanon today, the struggle geopolitically remains over who will control the state. How will the state interact regionally with its neighbors and internationally? Will it be allied with the Western, former and current colonial powers and their policies in the region? Or will it be aligned with the adversaries of US policy in the region, namely Iran and Syria?
ERIN GOODMAN: Carmen, who's going to help Lebanon? We read about Hezbollah getting gasoline from Iran to help the fuel shortage. What about help from outside?
CARMEN GEHA: I think that it's important to understand that the root of corruption is impunity and amnesty for war crimes in Lebanon. Corruption, essentially, is favoritism. And this is a system whose foreign allies-- Saudi, Iran, US, French-- has favored the rule of warlords. And that is an oxymoron to good governance. It is impossible to govern when your currency is killing and blood.
And so any investment in Lebanese government or governance, of course, will go to waste with the growing fleet that is Hezbollah, that is super well-armed, that has its welfare institutions. It's impossible to fight this fight from Lebanon alone. And it's impossible for one power to solve it alone. There has to be a geopolitical settlement that is about good governance in this country.
And any bailout-- I do agree that any bailout should put accountability at the heart of it. Otherwise, we're just inducting money into a system that will eat them up. It wasn't so long ago, Timour Azhari in Reuters covered that Lebanese banks ate up to $250 million that were earmarked for refugees by UN agencies. Now, no country in the world, and no taxpayer, will accept this.
But I think putting the blame on people, on local politics, is only part of the problem. I mean, yes, there are warlords. They put inept people in power. It took Lebanon, like, 10 years to enact an access to information law. Rape was legal until three years ago. I mean, this is a terrible system. But what makes it terrible is that Lebanon is not even on a negotiation table to free it from a fleet of weapons, basically, roaming around, assassinating people, threatening communities, and being today the only power broker in the country.
I think this is one of the largest impediments to good governance. Ineptness and incompetence can be fought. And petty corruption can be fought. But impunity for war crimes, the Hariri tribunal, the series of assassinations, the port explosion-- for that to go unaccounted for, I think, has killed hope in me and any of us that neither Biden, nor Superman can solve this, because these people are going to continue.
Today, Lebanon is a narcotic trading, human trafficking, drug exporter, terrorist harboring country. And again, these are structural problems. Sectarianism is not-- people don't wake up and carry arms. There is an investment in this stand-off that Nate is referring to that doesn't seem to be yielding. And whatever deal is being made, nor anti-corruption measures are on the table, nor human rights, nor dignity, not even the banking sector.
So I think that we-- anybody that wants to help Biden or others-- need to look at the root cause. And essentially, this is a group of warlords that were granted amnesty for war crimes, and went and sat in their palaces, and were rewarded by becoming ministers, and president, and now their sons in law, and their daughters. I mean, the entire state is like a family tree of people that appear to be polarized, but like we said in the beginning, they're extremely invested in maintaining the system. They don't know otherwise.
ERIN GOODMAN: Nate, Lebanon was once a strong US ally. Why do you think that the Biden administration seems to be avoiding the issues in Lebanon?
NATE GEORGE: So why has the Biden administration stayed away? To be quite honest, to go in the historical story that I've been telling here, Lebanon has turned out to be kind of a bad investment for the United States, from their perspective, from the geopolitical perspective of US foreign policy.
It has invested hundreds of millions of dollars, over the course of Lebanese independence, in creating a Lebanese state that-- in military, especially in the military because the military is the favored conduit of US aid to Lebanon. Because it's seen as the most important entity for US policy, because it's seen as an internal policing force, basically, that will keep order within the boundaries of the Lebanese state.
ERIN GOODMAN: You also mentioned Syria before.
NATE GEORGE: A lot of hopes were pinned on weakening Hezbollah through weakening the Syrian regime, which it's allied to, has ended sort of in a victory, more or less, for the government. Which has really empowered the coalition in Lebanon-- the Hezbollah-aligned coalition and pro-Syrian coalition in Lebanon-- to be more powerful there, too.
So that's essentially what the Biden administration and the Gulf states are seeing. They have continuously funded and subsidized political movements that were pro-Western or anti-resistance. And they've always ended up losing.
ERIN GOODMAN: Melani, did you want to add more?
MELANI CAMMETT: Yeah. Maybe I'll just make one comment. And then I would love to hear from Lana and Carmen, their thoughts which they've started to articulate, about alternative movements and organizations. So the one thing I would say is, Nate was articulating the macro-political division within the country around the sort of Iran-Syria axis, versus more Western-oriented actors. And I think that is an important divide, even though things have become more complicated in recent years.
And that, I think, really shapes American foreign policy towards Lebanon. Because Lebanon does not have a state that is controlled by a single actor. And to the extent that it does have a dominant actor, it's more in the camp of the sort of Iran-Syria axis at the moment.
So this is a delicate dance for the United States. And so I think it just makes sense on some level, or at least one might understand why they would adopt a more hands off approach. Because it's complicated, you're not negotiating with a single actor. And the actor that the United States would prefer to negotiate with, or the set of actors is not the one that holds the reins of power exclusively, or even in a dominant way.
The other thing is they're trying to reinstate subversion of the Iran Nuclear Deal. So I think the priority is more there. And there are some ad hoc efforts, I believe, to funnel humanitarian aid to the country, but not an overarching strategy vis a vis Lebanon. Again, I think it's because of this political divide that makes it tricky for the United States.
ERIN GOODMAN: Carmen, how are people surviving and resisting at the same time? Can you describe some of the alternative movements that Melani referred to?
CARMEN GEHA: As I was listening to everyone, I was thinking, a system so bad, for sure there must be some contestation to it, a system that is so structurally opposed to basic human rights, to basic human dignity, for sure there must be opposition to it of some sort. And one form of that opposition is a very widespread set of local institutions and actors that have chosen historically to challenge the system, not through protesting alone, which I can talk about a little bit later, but through really building local institutions that can defy widespread clientelism, sectarianism, and violence.
And you have, really, a typology of these institutions-- from free legal advocacy, to migrant workers who are kept at home in modern day slavery, essentially in captivity. From institutions providing a blood bank for free for people and mobilizing youth to go and give blood, especially in times of disasters, all the way to schools, and clinics, and student clubs, and women's associations, and shelters, all the way up to human rights organizations demanding an investigation into the Beirut port explosion-- there is a widespread sense of defiance. There is a willingness to stand against the system.
And I don't want this to be misunderstood as sort of only an NGO-ization of services. This is something that we thought about a lot in the 2000s and after the '90s that these NGOs can end up having unintended consequences of giving the state a pardon and leaving a gap to be filled by local associations. I don't think, however, in this crisis, looking at these institutions merely from the eye of NGOs is helpful.
I look at them as widespread coalitions that are providing a different model of delivering services, a different model of advocating for human rights and dignity in a country that strips you away from everything. And I think that these institutions, given time, can produce a different way of providing health, education, basic services, shelter, and food where it's needed the most.
And whenever I get stuck, my moral compass always turns to Paul and Tracey Najjar, who lost a three-year-old, Alexandra, in the explosion. And their journey, I mean not only in terms of advocating for a transparent investigation into the port, they've continued to be a model for a community coming together. Just today, they posted about-- this is the second year that they're offering sort of a soup kitchen, that you would call in the US, that they'll be cooking and giving away 12,000 meals to families on 23 and 24 of December.
Now the cynical in me, a year back, or two years back, would have thought this is not enough. People need to take to the streets. They need to call it as it is. But given the crisis, and given how aloof Lebanese politicians have been, how arrogant, they didn't hold a single funeral service to the victims of the Beirut explosion. They wouldn't dare show their faces at the hospital for the 6,000 that were wounded.
When I look at the model of how politicians act, and the model of how Tracey and Paul behave, and others, I find that there's something there [INAUDIBLE] to be looked at as a form of resistance to the system, of saying sure maybe we can't change the whole country, but we're going to take care as much as we can of this issue, of this street. And I think that there is a lot of this happening in Lebanon that merits very close attention in the next phase, and all kinds of support not just financial, but merely mentioning these people, and what they're doing, and what they're succeeding to do in bringing communities together, I think it's very important.
ERIN GOODMAN: Lana, go ahead.
LANA SALMAN: I just want to say that, again, a lot of talk about doom and gloom, a lot of talk about eccentric things about Lebanon, but I want to say that Lebanon is not such an outlier case. It's a case where things are magnified a lot. It's a small country. The fact that it's very small and stands in this, like, on this rift between these geopolitical forces makes things extremely complicated, but magnifies dynamics that are happening around the world, right?
Dispossessive ruling systems are everywhere, the aggressiveness of neoliberal policies is everywhere. Solidarity campaigns, local mutual aid, local organizing is also everywhere. So it's not that this is the Lebanese-- we shouldn't look, and this is one of the narratives that we need to break down, that Lebanon is not an exception. We should see the play-out of the forces in this country as a lesson for elsewhere, both in how systems get built, and also destroyed, and how people mobilize and also get demobilized.
And I think part and shifting this narrative to think of the Lebanese society and the regime as one where issues of rights, wealth, value creation, politics, difference, living with difference, living with otherness should be, like, a lesson and not an exception and an aberrant case. Because that also means there is no resolution, right? Lebanon is an aberrant case, it's an extreme, it's an outlier, therefore we can't resolve this. We just let them be. But changing this narrative to think of these forces as magnified also opens opportunities for changing our reality.
ERIN GOODMAN: Melani, did you want to say a final word?
MELANI CAMMETT: I am very interested in these emerging organizations and movements and citizen initiatives within and outside of the country. And I think it's absolutely critical, the points that Lana and Carmen have made about alternative spaces outside of the electoral arena. It doesn't mean these groups can't ever enter electoral politics. In fact, I think there's an interesting literature in political science that I've been thinking about recently on externally mobilized political parties and the power of political parties that are rooted in civil society organizations.
So it's possible. I don't have a crystal ball, but it's possible that these citizen initiatives, or local initiatives, ultimately translate up over time in powerful movements that can translate into political power.
ERIN GOODMAN: I'm glad we can end on somewhat of a hopeful, though speculative, note. I want to thank our scholars for giving us a very clear and sobering picture of Lebanon today. Melani Cammett, Carmen Geha, Nate George, and Lana Salman, thank you for sharing your time. You can read more about our scholars' work on the Epicenter website.
Many thanks to our listeners. If you value our conversations, please take a moment to hit the Subscribe button on your favorite listening platform. Until next time, I'm Erin Goodman, signing off from the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University.