The Lebanese Revolution

Lebanon (and Chile and Iraq) are an example to us all

This image says it almost all. A proposed tax on WhatsApp calls and suddenly there is a revolutionary movement. As it demonstrates, there were many other issues, and much build up in Lebanon, before the proverbial straw broke the camel’s back.

Four years ago, a taxi driver in Beirut had told me that his politicians “do everything except care about the human being. Everything is done except what is needed by the people. We are all in a state of total anxiety and we can’t function.”

The man was desperate for some improvement in traffic and electricity, and some signal that his government cared about him, his children and his future. The driver not only predicted it all, he pointed out why we react when all those factors below the sea level accumulate: we have key, basic innate human needs, physical and emotional. When these are unmet, the result is anxiety, high emotion, conflict and upheaval.

Lebanon, like so many other countries around the world is badly governed. It does not have a functioning economy. As a result of robber ideological agendas and excessive self-interest, the country has withered away, replaced by a messy, anxious grasp for daily needs that one can hardly call life.  

The uprisings come as a shock because we do not monitor the more intangible aspects of our lives, our dissatisfactions and emotional states. A sense of lack of control over the future of one’s country, or unfairness and lower status because those responsible are robbing the public purse may seem like opinions until they flare. It is a law of nature that unmet needs will lead to high emotional states and the blindness and conflict that can come with them. But, we have a bad habit of ignoring our nature. Our technological arrogance and distraction alongside our appetites for glory or money, blind us to all that is below the surface, quietly accumulating.  

There is much to hope for in the Lebanese revolution. This image of a potted sapling cedar that has made the social media rounds suggests that a new Lebanon may be in the process of being born. But this will take time. New cultural patterns that lead to new political habits and structures need to be built up slowly while the old ones fade away. That cedar will only grow if it is planted in the right soil and enriched by the right climate. The Lebanese are already traumatized by memories of the civil war, conflicts with Israel, spillover from the Syrian conflict and decades of mismanagement (or zero management).

The revolution is a loud shout, a demand by citizens to have their basic needs met: everything from electricity to karamé (meaning “dignity” in Arabic). This evocative event with its anger, euphoria and high emotions can also be seen as a sudden waterfall – magnificent and powerful. But, you cannot drink easily from a rushing cataract. The strong waters may sweep away the old, but there may not be much left after the deluge.

To continue with the analogy, water can also be directed through irrigation channels to raise crops. So it may also be with our emotions and basic needs. Instead of swinging between severe lack and sudden floods of emotion, these needs can be channeled and managed patiently and consistently, including politically.

Once our politicians learn to recognize and work below the iceberg – aware that a citizen needs a regular and healthy dose of meaning, freedom and status to prosper and flourish – then we can start to build healthy societies.

But for that the politicians have to care – and not be in it only for themselves. It is a demand so obvious, yet rarely met until it is often too late: the people are on the street preparing the guillotine and the choice becomes either embarrassing flight, or blood.