Dear Lebanese, Stop Selling Your Country Short

Lebanon is not a perfect country. It has its obvious and grave flaws. But it exists.

It might be rickety. You might think the foundations are not solid. But the country has pulled through too much: civil war, several occupations, invasions, Israeli wars…
We pride ourselves on being resilient. We describe Beirut by saying it’s a “phoenix”, albeit quite cliche, always rising from the ashes.

But I digress.

What we also do is bash our country left and right, up and down. And every direction in between those anytime something we do not agree with happens.
Let me illustrate this.

The most recent example is the arrest of Zeid Hamdan today, after being accused of libel against the Lebanese president, following a rather useless song.
The moment Zeid was taken into custody, Lebanese twitter and Facebook users were up in protest. The Facebook page dedicated to freeing Zeid gained about 2000 followers in a few hours. All good, right? I mean, the arrest was ridiculous. The law upon which the arrest was based needs to be revised. It’s no longer 1926 when our constitution was “inspired” by the French one at the time. France changed theirs. It’s high time we change ours.
Another side of the Zeid Hamdan arrest was a lot of Lebanese people bashing their country, some calling it a useless place, others calling it a failure of a nation, while some called it a piece of sh*t.

In another example, some people have expressed their desire to change their citizenship and abandon this tragedy of a country. The cause for such feelings? Some beaches in Lebanon only allow couples to be admitted.

Some have called the nation a failure because our phones are not cheap and our internet isn’t fast. The basis for that comparison? A country whose system is a failing monarchy.

Others have expressed that sentiment when they got stuck in traffic. I’m sure those people haven’t heard of the ridiculous traffic that hit L.A. a few days ago, or the traffic that lasted a week in China. But you know, you’re Lebanese. You nag.

Just because our political system is in a perpetually fragile equilibrium doesn’t mean the whole system is a failure. Just because power transfers easily doesn’t mean the country is a failure.

And you know what the most ridiculous thing is, our expectations are so low of anything Lebanon-related that we’re willing to believe any rumor that defames the country as a whole. I’m sure you all remember how NewTV decided to announce that our National Anthem is stolen from some dead quasi-Moroccan kingdom, which named itself “The Kingdom of Peasants.” The news spread like wildfire. Some of the Facebook statuses and tweets at the time: Even our anthem is stolen. We’re such a ridiculous country.
And what do you know, the whole rumor turned out to be false. It turned out that those Moroccan peasants stole our anthem. I wonder, why weren’t the NewTV people arrested for defamatory behavior against the whole country?

This is historically a chronic problem in Lebanon, selling the nation short while idealizing a foreign ideology as it might be the quick fix to our problems. In the 1950’s and 60’s many thought that Nasser’s Arabist ideology would be the great fix for Lebanon. People thought that his brave speeches and anti-West sentiments is what the country needed. Yet I wonder if those people realize that Nasser turned Egypt into a police state, banned political parties and demonstrations, evicted countless minorities, lost at countless wars which bankrupted Egypt, and even used poison gas on people in his war in Yemen. Meanwhile during that time Lebanon was in the midst of a golden age , yet people called for his brand of Arabism thinking it would solve things. And shockingly we have erected a statue to such a bloody dictator right on our own sea front promenade.

We lament our sectarian system and lack of national semblance. Let’s take a closer look at our neighbors that we envy so much. Sudan has recently split into two states. The South finally won its independence after years of bloody civil war, and yes a civil war longer then the Lebanese civil war! Southerners revolted against a forced campaign of Arabism and lack of freedom. In Iraq where Kurds were victims of genocide, they now have their own autonomous zone, and the state acts as a loose federation. Morocco has witnessed a huge rebel movement in its Western Sahara province which now has its own autonomy. Egypt for the last three decades has seen spats of sectarian violence where the Coptic minority still does not have the right to build churches. And one can only begin to imagine how Shiites are treated in the GCC states.

This may come as a shock to many Lebanese but Lebanon is still #1 in the region for media and civil rights. According to pew polls %97 of Lebanese Muslims view Christians favorably while only a dismal %48 of Egyptians do and far ahead of the Arab nations, and for bizarre reasons we say that we aren’t a model of coexistence. Our literacy and education rate is one of the highest in the region and Lebanese universities continue to attract students from across the region. Even Western critics admit that Beirut is the most cosmopolitan city in the region as well as the culinary capital. While many in the Arab world are dying just to ask for presidential term limits, better civil society and free elections, we’ve continued to be on top in those fields for years.

People need to start dwelling on the positives. YOU come from a nation that has produced poets like Khalil Gebran and singers like Fairouz. YOU actually have the freedom to criticize your own state – regardless of what happened today. YOU actually have the freedom to start your own NGO. YOU have the freedom to vote for a political party of your choice. YOU have the freedom to wear what you want. YOU have the freedom to protest for change. YOU have nature reserves. YOU live in the most diverse nation in the region. YOU have banks that weathered the financial meltdown. YOU have cabinet ministers that actually respond. YOU have freedom of press. YOU have the freedom of how you want to identify, i.e. Arab, Phoenician, or whatever.

A few days ago, #BlameTheMuslims was a trending topic on Twitter. People thought it was racist because they missed the point. A Muslim girl started it as a sarcastic approach to how Muslims are portrayed in media. Her initial tweets?
– My battery died. #BlameTheMuslims.
– My shirt got dirty. #BlameTheMulims.
– I’m sleepy. #BlameTheMuslims.
You get the picture.
With some Lebanese, their lifestyle regarding their country is like this.
– My food is cold. #LebanonIsAFailure
– I can’t go to the beach because I don’t have a girlfriend #LebanonIsAFailure
– iPhone is expensive! #LebanonIsAFailure
– It takes me two hours to download a porn video! #LebanonIsAFailure.

So dear Lebanese, when you start selling your country short and whoring your pride around so other people start making fun of you and your heritage, you become a failure. Think about the people that read or hear your words before uttering them. Odds are, if someone non-Lebanese says these things about your country, you’d be all up in a fistfight. So why do you say them?

Look at what others in the Middle East are facing before you start complaining again. Take pride in your nation instead of constantly selling it short, and envying others. If we actually took more pride in our own nation and its unique diversity there would be more national cohesion instead of fragmentation. Let’s appreciate what we do have and work towards a better common future. A lot of what we need for change is right under our own noses. Lebanon is a middle income country, and many of its neighbors are ranked much lower, so stop and think about what they’re going through and what it really means to live in a failed state.

We have a long way to go. And compared to more advanced countries, we fall short in many aspects. But at least be proud of what you have accomplished.

Take this symbolically

PS: Thank you to my awesome friend Boulos for his great input and help in making this post.