As his 6-month mission comes to an end, the head of the British Embassy in Beirut, Dr. Martin Longden, shared his personal reflections on Lebanon’s situation with bluntness about the present yet with a hopeful message about the future.
Dr. Longden took over as the Chargé d’Affaires in Lebanon after Chris Rampling resigned in December for personal reasons.
Ahead of his departure this week, Dr. Longden stated his observations in a lengthy opinion piece full of concern for the Lebanese people he will leave behind.
“There have been better times to be head of the British Embassy in Lebanon,” he said, describing the country as both “wonderful and troubled.” His mission came during the toughest time as the country goes through waves of crises.
Like the rest of the world, he is not oblivious to the near fact that there is no prospect for a rescue government soon, yet he still feels a sense of hope for the “incredible potential” he sees in Lebanon.
Praising its natural beauty and the talent of its people, Dr. Longden believes Lebanon is at its most important crossroads ever; one that will dictate the country’s future. It’s now or never for the betterment of this precious Mediterranean land.
A rotten thing
“Forgive my bluntness: but there is something rotten at the heart of Lebanon,” he said in a most striking statement.
“The failure so far to hold anyone accountable for the disastrous port explosion last summer is just the most dramatic example of the impunity and irresponsibility that [characterizes] too much of Lebanese life.”
“State institutions are subverted; special interests are protected; and [Hezbollah’s] militia [operates] freely, accountable to no one but themselves. And the result? An elite enriched, as the Lebanese people lose out at every turn.”
However, as his warnings to Lebanon’s political elite fall on deaf ears, he expressed. “The international community cannot stop Lebanon’s fall,” without action by Lebanon’s politicians, he warned.
Everyone wants a piece of the cake
In a nutshell, Dr. Longden observed the sickness plaguing Lebanon, saying, “For decades the real purpose of the Lebanese ‘system’ has been, not to look after the national interests of the country, but to ‘balance’ the interests of competing groups.”
“It has been to focus on a zero-sum game, on ensuring that each group gets no less of its share of Lebanon’s wealth and resource than it believes it is due. And in this relentless effort to take, Lebanon’s leaders have spent its resources recklessly – way beyond what it could ever truly afford. Now the country stands on the verge of insolvency. So focused were the political elite on dividing the cake, they never thought about how to bake a bigger one.”
Dr. Longden did not deny the struggle Lebanon faces due to its location on the map as a place where others’ geopolitics plays out. But that’s not the main issue.
“The confessional instinct to lend one’s trust to foreign powers more than to fellow Lebanese has not helped. The weaker and more divided the country, the more vulnerable Lebanon becomes to the predations of others,” he asserted, stressing neutrality.
Light at the end of the tunnel
“But, in the midst of our current despair, I do believe that change can and will come to Lebanon,” he said, pinning his hopes on the young people of Lebanon.
“I do not believe that the old, corrupted practices will withstand youth’s excited impatience for a better future, and nor should they.”
“This, at heart, is what gives me hope for the future of Lebanon: as the new generation rides to the rescue of the old. And the UK, as a long-standing friend and partner to the Lebanese people, will be proud to ride with you.”