Is there still hope for Lebanon?

To say that Lebanon has been through a lot would be an understatement. After a multifaceted civil war which ended in 1990, the country had to face a series of disasters including a major financial collapse, the emergence of mass protests and the outbreak of the covid-19 pandemic. However, all the issues that Lebanon had to face seem to have their roots in a single predominant problem: Lebanon’s corrupt sectarian system. 

When looking at the current situation in Lebanon, one question prevails: can it only get worse? The whole world wonders whether the Lebanese, and especially the youth, can remain hopeful for the future when everyday life keeps getting harder. 

What went wrong?

As one crisis opens doors to others, Lebanon’s political leaders have thus far proved incapable of addressing the multiple health, economic, social and political issues that the country is facing. The devastating 4th August blast in Beirut port was the culminating evidence of the dysfunctional nature of the Lebanese state. This tragic event destroyed the heart of the city of Beirut and killed more than 200 people. It was caused by 2750 tonnes of ammonium nitrate which had been stored in the port for more than six years. Looking at the explosion two months on, it is clear that ongoing corruption and negligence on the part of the Lebanese political elite not only caused the disaster but also prevented any effective reform to enable the rebuilding of the country afterwards.

The current Lebanese political system was codified by the 1989 Taif Agreement which ended the country’s civil war. It is entrenched along sectarian lines as it was designed to provide political representation to all Lebanon’s eighteen officially recognized religious communities. In Lebanon, the president (currently Michel Aoun, pictured above) has to be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunni Muslim and the speaker of the parliament a Shia Muslim. The seats in parliament are split between Christians and Muslims and the seats are then proportionally divided between the different branches within each of the religions. Similarly, government positions are also divided among the different groups. Over time, this system proved flawed and created tensions between the different religious sects. The Lebanese people quickly realized that each sect’s leader or representative would prefer to use their powers to serve the interests of their community rather than those of the country. The Lebanese political system has lost its legitimacy in the eyes of the population because of the level of corruption and nepotism it encourages. 

The flaws in the structure of the Lebanese political system and the incapacity of the Lebanese political elite were also highlighted by the multiple successive crises in government formation. A week after the Beirut blast, the prime minister Hassan Diab resigned while his government collapsed around him. His predecessor, Saad Hariri, had himself resigned less than a year before, on the 29th October 2019. Many thought that the 4th August tragedy would mark a paradigm shift and open opportunities for reform. It is true that such an event could have brought the whole country together and convinced all Lebanese that they needed to work together to build a bright future for their nation. However, this was not the case. The newly designated prime minister Mustapha Adib stepped down on the 26th of September 2020 having been unable to form a new government. More precisely, he stated that he could not find any compromise to resolve the disputes among factions regarding appointments to ministries. This failure shows that Lebanon’s political leaders are still not ready to give up on their corrupt practices and privileges. It seems likely that government formation will remain a cursed process in Lebanon. Indeed that incapacity to agree on a new government is preventing Lebanon getting an international bailout as some countries such as France clearly state that their help is conditional on a credible government being formed.

Nevertheless, no matter the amount of international pressure, Lebanon still seems far from successfully forming a new government. Moreover, many Lebanese believe that the mere formation of a new government would not be enough to save the country as it would not solve any of the corruption and inefficiency issues. Fundamental changes are needed in Lebanon. 

Can Lebanon still be fixed?

The question that everyone is trying to answer is whether there is still a way to fix Lebanon. 

When asked such a question, most teenagers and young adults seem pessimistic about the future of their country.  Several young Lebanese who went on the streets on the 17th October 2019 told us they would not be willing to do it again. They explained that those mass protests did not bring any change and that they killed all hope of reform. Some also added that it is now difficult for them to believe that Lebanon will ever be free from corruption and nepotism. Such a feeling is understandable considering that, more than a year after the start of the protests, the Lebanese authorities have failed to address the people’s demands.

Although they are unsure whether it could still happen, the Lebanese youth agrees that a new start is necessary for the country. However, it is difficult to assess what exactly would be required as part of this new start. This is why the Next Century Foundation believes in the importance of creating forums and platforms for discussions that include Lebanese from all political, social and economic backgrounds as well as representatives of all religious communities. Such an idea might sound naïve to some, but we truly think it is crucial to listen to all parties’ views in order to create dialogue, find compromises and agree on potential solutions to build a better future for Lebanon. 

When discussing attempts to bring serious reform to Lebanon, several key solutions and scenarios need to be mentioned and developed. Some of them were examined during the regular Lebanon working group meetings organized by the Next Century Foundation. The need for legislative reform has to be part of any discussion regarding Lebanon’s future. The creation of an upper house of parliament was suggested in the Taif Agreement but never properly considered nor implemented by Lebanon’s political leaders. A bicameral system could help Lebanon to move away from sectarianism. Indeed, the upper house could be established along sectarian lines while the lower house could welcome political parties and individuals regardless of their confessional affiliation. However, as the Taif Agreement lacks details beyond a basic description of such a legislative reform, trying to implement it would raise many questions regarding the respective roles and powers of the two chambers but also regarding the way in which representatives are elected or appointed. Another crucial point which should be examined when discussing reforms is changing the Lebanese electoral system. The current election laws allow established politicians to consolidate their power and disadvantage independent candidates or new smaller parties which cannot be adequately represented. Changing this electoral system is crucial if Lebanon is to move away from sectarianism and corruption. 

One cannot predict what the future holds for Lebanon. The clock is ticking and the current situation could hardly be worse. However, it is not too late for Lebanese to realize that only a government willing to implement serious reform will be able to save the country. The issue here is that those who need to understand this and implement change are also the ones benefiting from the current corrupt system. 

This article was written by the NCF Meetings Convenor Marie Colangelo and does not necessarily represent the views of the Next Century Foundation.

A Lebanese limbo

The devastating blast that annihilated both Beirut’s famous port and its seaside districts, leaving up to 300,000 people homeless felt like a horrifying, apocalyptic scenario. To many Lebanese, the explosion was also symbolic of Lebanon’s systemic decay, economic stagnation, government neglect and rampant corruption, compounded by the social and economic devastation brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic. Lebanon’s post-civil war reconstruction largely benefited its elites, and the post-explosion reconstruction is bound to do the same. Yet the system is showing cracks. The following personal perspective is from NCF Research Officer Ivan Tarkhanov and does not necessarily represent the view of the Next Century Foundation.

Even without the horror of the Beirut explosions, Lebanon’s economy was already sliding towards disaster. A vicious cycle of stagnant economic growth, subpar infrastructure, unemployment and a lack of investment have left the Lebanese economy hopelessly dependent on diaspora inflows, which have in turn mainly benefited the inefficient real estate sector. In addition to this, an entrenched and monopolistic elite continues to block important reforms. As a result despite Lebanon’s status as a middle-income country, its infrastructure was ranked 113 out of 137 countries by the McKinsey report in 2019. 

Lebanon’s political system, built on sectarian lines in an uneasy post-civil war consensus, has now largely lost legitimacy with the average young Lebanese voter. Even in the economy’s better days, the omnipresence of corruption, nepotism and government incompetence left a great number of Lebanese falling through the cracks of the system. Social inequality arguably remains one of the root causes of Lebanon’s 2019-2020 protests and has been a significant obstacle to economic growth and social prosperity. To make things worse, Lebanon’s vibrant middle class has been eviscerated by the succession of crises, and many Lebanese are desperate for a political solution. The majority of Lebanon’s citizens are now trapped in poverty.

Prime Minister Hassan Diab’s government fell one week after the explosion. This resignation came only one year after then PM Saad Hariri’s announced his resignation in the wake of earlier Lebanese protests. But many Lebanese citizens are no longer satisfied with mere cosmetic changes. They are demanding fundamental change at all levels. 

Some have called for a national unity government. But Lebanon has already been run by a unity government. It mostly failed to provide pragmatic solutions to important issues, instead getting trapped in ideological and sectarian debates.

Lebanon needs immediate change. And this change must come through comprehensive economic reforms. Lebanon does not have many options – the economic limbo of the fiscal crisis was only compounded by the damage caused by the Beirut blast, estimated at 15 billion dollars. 

Pushing through significant economic reforms would qualify Lebanon to receive assistance from the International Monetary Fund. That said, IMF programs are not without very considerable controversy. Even the IMF’s own study into austerity policies concluded that they can increase inequality and hamper long term economic growth. Before the explosion rocked Beirut, PM Hassan Diab said that Lebanon needed $10bn in international support. Self-evidently, its needs now far exceed that. But in my personal view, besides the IMF bailout package, Lebanon currently has few credible options. If Lebanon managed to find an agreement with the IMF, it could unlock further aid packages. Meanwhile, also in my personal view, the so-called ‘Chinese option’ for Lebanon remains insufficiently explored: after all Lebanon’s ports could play a key role in China’s Belt and Road initiative.

Entrenched interests impede economic reform in Lebanon. In the years preceding the fiscal crisis, crucial laws and reforms have been either indefinitely stuck in Parliament or avoided altogether. A hostile and monopolised business environment has both repelled investors and placed a heavy toll on small businesses. To make matters worse, Lebanon’s financial services industry remains overwhelmingly dominated by banking, which impedes the nations’s economic stability.

Following the explosion there was an outpouring of international support for Lebanon. Yet direct economic aid to the Lebanese government has been scarce. An emergency donor conference claimed to have raised 253 million euros for humanitarian relief, but the donors demanded stringent transparency in the management of the aid money and most of this money will never reach Lebanon. This is because many international actors remain conscious of the Lebanese government’s corruption and systemic reluctance to reform. Hezbollah, of course, remains an elephant in the room. Since its parliamentary victory of 2018, the organisation has often proven incapable of delivering on reforms demanded by outsiders. Hezbollah’s strong presence in Lebanese politics has led to unwillingness on the part of the United States, most Gulf States and certain European countries to commit resources to Lebanon.

Hezbollah understandably remains hostile to many of the calls for reform, most notably the IMF-demanded customs reorganisation, which would spell the end of the Hezbollah’s share in the militia monopoly over the sector and its control of large swathes of the Lebanese- Syrian border, along with what I view as its lucrative oversight of smuggling operations into Lebanon.   

Ideas of disarming Hezbollah are unrealistic and risk further antagonising the group. Hope remains that a strong, non-sectarian protest movement might finally lead to a new government and a new system built along non-sectarian lines. In any case, corrupt oligarchies, armed militias and rabid sectarianism have served the Lebanese people’s interests poorly.

Healing the Nations – Book Now!

The Next Century Foundation’s 
Healing the Nations
Summer Conference


The Next Century Foundation is holding a ten-day online conference over the end of July and the first week of August.

Events will be taking place covering all of the Foundation’s key nations and areas.


To book, contact with details of which sessions you are planning to attend.
Sessions will run in the mode of the NCF’s successful weekly meetings, mixing input from knowledgeable speakers and key players with both breakout room and round table discussions.

This conference provides a unique opportunity to take stock of the geopolitical situation in the Middle East and beyond, and gain on-the-ground insights simply unavailable in mainstream reporting.

We would be honoured if you would join us in confronting the key issues in these countries and working towards peace and positive change through constructive discussions – just have as we have for the last three decades.

Conference Sessions
(London BST)

Thursday 30 July 
11.20 am US/UK 
3 pm Lebanon

Friday 31 July
3 pm Palestine 

Saturday 1 August
3 pm Libya

Sunday 2 August
3 pm China

Monday 3 August
11.30 am Afghanistan 
3 pm Iran 

Tuesday 4 August
11.30 am Iraq
3 pm Syria 

Wednesday 5 August
11.30 am Kashmir 
3 pm Yemen

Thursday 6 August
11.30 am Israel 
3 pm Sudan

Friday 7 August
3 pm Bahrain

Saturday 8 August
3 pm Conclusions

Image: Sunrise in San’a, Yemen taken by yeowatzup / CC BY

Six in the Afternoon

Some of you may remember Joelle Manih and Ethan Jahan as the Producer and Director respectively of The English Hour broadcasts formerly hosted by NCF Secretary General, William Morris. They are both in lockdown as are most of us these days. This is an interesting short film, made by Ethan and starring Joelle, as their response to Covid-19.

Don’t Forget Me

And, sir, it is no little thing to make mine eyes to sweat compassion”, (William Shakespeare, Coriolanus).

This is my last blog post for The Next Century Foundation. During my time at the NCF, I addressed several hot issues, speaking about different situations and topics, even very controversial ones, which have sometimes generated harsh reactions. I suppose it is inevitable if you are speaking about politics, human rights, dictators, victims or perpetrators. These social fabrications give us a social identity and lead us to often take on conflicting and controversial positions, dictated by interests, simple visions or specific goals. In such circumstances, the “political animal” inside each of us reveals itself trying to impose its own point of view.

However, in spite of the ideas and values that humans can have, every person is made up of feelings and emotions. Before being classified as political animals, humans are sentient beings, with emotions and feelings which define us and make us unique. The same sort of emotions and feelings that are gradually being extinguished with the frenetic and uncontrolled evolution of this world. And today, I want to talk about this. Today I want to talk about who we are. Today, I want to write about the emotions, hopes and feelings that define us and how this world is changing them. And I will do it by speaking through the lense of one of the generations that, more than any other, is experiencing this change in full; a generation that particularly expresses the contradictions of our society but also the dreams and the betrayed hopes: my generation, that of the Millennials.

We live in strange times. Times of great uncertainties, immense fears, incessant and fast changes. I am the son of a generation that has been living through the golden years of development, where entrepreneurs would invest in the job market and believed in the value of their employees. Years where politicians would constantly strive to find new ways to improve people’s lives. The high level of births, the prolific job market, the certainty of the future, the first and the second car, big savings, the summer holidays by the sea or in the mountains. And then the great investments, the incentives to progress, research and development, the high general morale, the man on the moon, the hope for a future of well-being for everyone.

But sometimes expectations about the future are bigger than what reality has to offer and, just like a bubble that swells excessively, sooner or later reality explodes right in your face. And here, all of a sudden, we have a system where the excessive well-being and the immeasurable potential of the third industrial revolution clashes with the individual economic interest. The big industries and multinationals come into play and alter the balance. Human greed grows stronger and stronger while the big multinationals knock on the doors of politics for some “boosts”. And there you go; the first agreements born to maximize profits by damaging workers’ rights; national factories shutting down to re-open in those countries where labor costs 1$ a day, or renegotiating workers’ union achievements with politicians in exchange for a few bribes or support during election campaigns; the high transnational finance getting hold of large company shares and becoming the main protagonist of a new global perverse game. The cost of labor for multinational companies drops dramatically while working hours increase. As a consequence, the price of produced goods decreases. Small and medium-sized businesses close or fail for they cannot compete with similar standards, whereas those able to make it through are the big names of industry or those entrepreneurs who, through criminal support, have managed to reach out to and influence politicians to get some extra procurement contracts or personal favors. The West becomes the center of unbridled capitalism, with no rules, with no ethics or respect. Everyone for themselves. It is against this backdrop that my generation, the Millennials, is born. The first true generation without any clue about its future.

The final blow comes with 2000 and all its technological capacity. It started with the first mobile phones and laptops on a large scale, up to smartphones and tablets. Technology moves; the great giants of Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and Amazon develop; technological power becomes incredibly significant. And here’s Black Friday, the purchases with a click, the ads in every corner of the city, superfast transportation and trains in the underground every minute. The illusion of a world as a global, super-technological and limitless village is born. A sense that all this frantic lifestyle is necessary and inevitable emerges.

The savings of our parents are spent in this super-technological world while employment becomes more and more an urban legend. The new contemporary frontier of slavery 2.0 is born. Jobs poorly paid with meal vouchers; fixed-term contracts; easier layoffs; unbearable working hours. The prediction of Charlie Chaplin in his movie, Modern Times, comes true. Man becomes a productive factor with no rights, little money and a need to spend money without worrying too much about the future. It is the betrayal of the dream of a global Californication that we all expected: a happy world with more freedom and less problems to think about; a world where everyone can work and build a better and sustainable future.

But man’s greediness has shattered this dream. The betrayal from a global political class of spineless servants of high finance and powerful world lobbies has sanctioned the end of this dream. And while constitutions drown in an ocean of decay, my question is, what is left of all this?

On the one hand, there is an army of clueless kids, educated in the best prep schools which are financed by international magnates, who repeat as robots notions of economic and political theories aired on televisions and published in newspapers by those same people responsible for such a global delirium. Those same theories that legitimized the unbridled capitalism that is crushing us; theories such as those of the great industrialization or those that ultimately justified the plundering of the marvelous African countries or wars of interest such as those in Iraq or Libya.

On the other hand, there are people who live in the moment, who believe in what the World tells them to believe, only able to find their own identity in the television culture of the Big Brother, phony talk shows or in the trashy pop-porn culture spread throughout the day by MTV. George Orwell’s predictions have never been so true, huh?

And then, what remains is a people of perfect strangers.

I turn around every day, in the train, on the bus, down the street, and I see hundreds of people far away. People with a blank look on their face, lost in the void or on the screen of their smartphones. Lonely, sad, aloof people, with not much of humanity left; people walking quickly through the streets remorselessly hitting whomever is in their path because they are too intent on continuing their virtual conversation with someone miles away; people unable to express emotions or feelings; people too busy masking their loneliness behind the perfect image of their virtually perfect life on Instagram; depressed people no longer connected to reality; people who get together and break up through a telephone because they are incapable and afraid of meeting or knowing each other in a normal, real, natural way. And finally, people unable to associate, to connect, to unite and resist the power, or to oppose unjust decisions.

So what is left of feelings, of humanity, of us being people? For some reason, I’ve always been afraid to answer this question. Particularly, in the last period of my life.

During my time at The Next Century Foundation, I have been able to reflect a lot on politics, religion, people and the complicated relationships that bind us to each other and that bind us to society. I have not really ever considered anything I am writing right now. Not because I did not think about it but rather because this complex machine of intertwined relations, politics, economy, religion and power is difficult to fully understand and, above all, to make it work. And in this sense, in the end you end up accepting it because you understand that things are almost always impossible to change, peace will always be difficult to establish, power will always preserve itself and religion will always be used as a political tool to manipulate the masses. So, almost passively, you end up accepting the status quo of things. Almost like a condition of the universe, immovable and immanent. Everything has always been this way and it will always be this way.

At least until this World decides you are the next target and this status quo affects you in person, lashing out at you with all its strength. And then everything changes. You withdraw, let yourself down, look for explanations, seek yourself and your role in the world. You frantically turn around to find yourself, unsuccessfully. And you cannot help but compare your situation to that of the contemporary world, that of a world that perhaps will never change; and that of the Millennials, that of a simple person surrounded by lonely individuals, unable to sense or feel emotions in one of the largest cities in the world. You wonder if maybe it is just the natural order of things that you eventually have to accept, because perhaps that is how it works, because it has always been and will always be like this. In the last few months of my life, I have been looking for an answer to this question, without luck.

Until something happens; that deus ex machina you need to get you out of trouble. And here comes the answer to your questions. Something that helps you to understand; something like a trip to Holland, a beer with a trusted friend, an exhibition of an artist or walking in the rain in the streets of London without a destination. And it is at that precise moment that when you look into people’s eyes – those you’ve been so reluctant about or that you’ve lost hope in – you suddenly see something different, something you’ve never seen before, something that changes your perspective. And you can suddenly feel a vibe, a feeling, a sparkle that leads you through their eyes. And, like a flash in a pan, you are able to feel all the power and the emotions that each of them has locked within and that can be conveyed through their story or personality. Pure energy, pure emotions, pure humanity. The people’s smiling faces at the Tulip market in Amsterdam; the encouraging wink of a friend down at the pub that – around a pint and some good indie-rock in the background – shows you the right way of looking at things; the power of humanity in the symbolic life scenes of Banksy’s works that lead you to reflect on the true nature of people and humanity; the feeling of the rain falling on your skin in the gray of London’s streets that brings you back to life and connects you to reality again. Your prospects start to change and now you can see things differently. Suddenly you can find an answer to that question in that stream of people and things around you.

And, like a flashback, everything suddenly made sense.

During my time at the Next Century Foundation, I met ambassadors, Lords, religious leaders; I even spoke to the World for 2 minutes before the UN Human Rights Council. All exceptional experiences. However, I now understand that none of these experiences would have made sense without a particular detail that each of them has in common, the confrontation with people. Before the NCF I had not realized how even simply talking with people is essential; how much people can express through their words, their looks or their smiles. And, above all, I had not realized how effective it is to be able to talk with them to try to solve problems.

This is exactly what humanity is. Humanity is talking, confronting each other, solving problems together, uniting different and opposite perspectives. When you can achieve that; when you can take your eyes off your smartphone for a moment and you turn around; when you abandon the social and political fabrications for a moment and drop the mask they gave you, it is only then that you see potential and opportunities in those stranger’s faces rather than indifference and solitude. In that precise moment, you can hear the flow I was talking about earlier. And you understand that that potential is unimaginable and terrifies governments and institutions, and shakes the establishment. Just like the stories I tried to tell you about so far in my articles. And whether it is the Christmas truce or the international mass mobilization for the death of a young man in Egypt, you realise it is all about looking at the world from another perspective. If some people managed to refuse to fight, to kill and be killed, on European soil a little less than a century ago, destroying the socio-political fabrication of wars; if some people managed to get together to protest against a fierce dictator in Egypt without being afraid of the consequences; if one man could revolutionize his country after being imprisoned for 27 years, upsetting the entire institutional set-up based on violence, lies and terror; if other great men like Martin Luther King or Gandhi or so many others have managed to mobilize millions of people around an idea of peace, justice or freedom, then we too can change this mad world.

It is all about being able to channel those vibes into positive, collective paths. And you can only do it through dialogue, confrontation and associationism. Talking and dealing with people, precisely. Alexis de Tocqueville once said that the only way to resist power in a positive and constructive way is through the democratic instrument that starts from the bottom, by means of associationism from the municipal level, from small realities.

People are the solution to the world’s illnesses. And the positive dialogue that you can have with them. Social Capital. It is so simple. The greatest evils of our generation come from this absurd lifestyle that is offered to us in the form of well-being, technology and comfort. Loneliness, depression, indifference, hatred and division are all the fruit of a society that tends to divide us and speculate on our collective incapacity to react, associate and confront each other. It is that simple, and we are the cure.

It is possible. And you can find the proof around you. Turn off the TV, put down your smartphone for a moment. Go down the street, talk to people, listen to what they have to say. Take a hike in the park, maybe in the pouring rain. Try to feel something. Go to the pub, read a newspaper and comment on the news with bystanders. Have a coffee or a beer with them. Ask them how they are and give them a smile. Everything will change, everything will be different.

And speaking of smiles.

Once, a bearded man told me that if you try to smile while walking down the street, this will positively influence your attitude towards others and, above all, your self-confidence. I will never forget those words. I recently tried to do it often and, I’ll tell you something, it worked. If you try to walk down the street smiling at the people you meet, most of them will reply with a smile. And you will feel different as well, more secure, more positive towards others and the world. It’s all about that. Those emotions and feelings I was talking about before. They can come out, if triggered.

We only have to reconsider our values, our priorities for a moment. What we want from life and what we are looking for. And above all, remember who we are and where we come from, always. Love every single rise and fall and take them as an opportunity to grow and improve yourself and the world around you. I think this is the solution, the cure for the ills of mankind. Creating a community of people based on diversity and dialogue. Only then can we overcome all this. And we, Millennials, have boundless potential to do so.

By the way, I have gone too far. And now it’s time to conclude this post.

My time at the NCF gave me a lot. I grew up a lot professionally but mostly as a person. I owe you a lot, William and Veronica, to your kindness and warm welcome. I was welcomed and treated like a son. You gave me a lot to think about and work on. You gave me a smile in tough times and support when needed. And for this, thank you.

Then there is you, Rory, William and Yousef. Some young minds full of passion and desire to change things. You are fantastic. Every day, I saw in your eyes that power and passion of which I spoke about right above, waiting just to be fully exploited. And I know you’ll find a way to do it, it’s just a matter of time.

You were my second family here, in this gigantic crazy world of sharks. I’ll never forget that. And I’d like to conclude this blog post with this thought, while sipping my double espresso in some coffee shop somewhere in London and listening to these fantastic notes of Redemption Song, one of Marley’s masterpieces. He succeeded! He succeeded in uniting people around words of peace and hope. Like Hendrix’s solo or Mercury’s unique voice or even the Boss playing a piano version of Thunder Road. This is the right time, the perfect moment.

Ciao NCF, a presto!

Luctor et Emergo ex Flammis Orior, Per Aspera ad Astra

#lastblogpost #peoplehavethepower #believe #change #ciaoncf


The Challenge that is Lebanon

The entire international community has come forward boldly and forcefully to stop attempts to extend the merciless Sunni-Shiite proxy war being fought out in Yemen, Bahrain, Iraq and Syria, extending to poor little Lebanon.

Lebanon barely functions. Its country lanes strewn with trash because the longstanding rubbish strike made it the dirtiest country on earth. And then there is the influx of countless refugees in their millions, first from Palestine, and now from Syria, with little help from the West to help cater for them.

The trouble for Lebanon is that the two beasts of the Middle East, Saudi Arabia and Iran, are head to head in a war of attrition – or proxy war of attrition if you prefer – which neither can ever win.

Perhaps there might be the political will in the West to bring them to the table over Yemen, where millions go hungry. The reality, in my view, is that Iran has little real control over the Houthis of Yemen. But the issue is that they are perceived as having control. And Saudi Arabia feels it has to respond to Iran’s pursuit of hegemony in areas it perceives as its own backyard – like Yemen – and Lebanon.

The message then for the international community is “Do nothing to provoke war before war is declared”.

There is no civil war in Lebanon. There need be no civil war in Lebanon. And if we tread carefully we can help ensure there will be no civil war in Lebanon.

And credit where credit is due, the international community seems to be doing a great job ensuring that little Lebanon remains safe.

As to the wider issue, they whisper that Iran stands ready to negotiate on a ‘You take Yemen, we take Syria’ basis. But Saudi Arabia does not. So we have an impasse. And meanwhile the common people die. Time someone knocked their heads together.