Shirt sleeves rolled up and with cheers ringing in his ears, President Macron of France, Lebanon’s former colonial power, waded into the crowds in Beirut yesterday to say he stood with them against a ruling class they denounce as corrupt.
Reeling from the massive explosion in their capital, the denizens of Beirut should not be pinning their hopes too much on the French leader. Lebanon in particular, and the Arab Middle East in general, are basket-cases. Wherever you look, there is death or insecurity, or both.
But Lebanon is special. Notionally a democracy, the sectarian power-sharing system that ended the civil war three decades ago has left the country with a collection of mini-dictatorships. Each faction’s leaders, from the Shiite Hezbollah to the Christian Maronites, exploit their hold on religiously affiliated constituencies to carve out limitless political power and monetary perks. I always tend to quote that old Lebanese proverb: when you leave the hen in charge of the granary, only one chicken gets fat. In this case, there are a fair number of fat hens dipping their beaks into the state coffers. How apposite then that the huge explosion also took out a massive grain silo. Expect the queues for bread to get even longer.