Monday, September 26, 2005

Lahoud's self-righteousness is the worst thing for Lebanon

This thought has been developing for quite some time now....

Two days ago, I met with Ya Libnan's webmaster, and had a really good discussion about Lebanese affairs. He pointed something out that was so obvious, yet somehow hidden from me. When the cellular companies LibanCell and Cellis were established in the early nineties, Lebanon was a regional leader in GSM technology. Yet, look at where we are now - MTC is run by a Kuwaiti company. When Lebanese first got access to the internet, Lebanon was also a regional leader. It had the largest number of ISPs and a correspondingly high level of service. Today, whereas countries like Dubai and Jordan have provided their business sectors and private consumers with broadband service, Lebanon remains in the relative Stone Age of dail-up modems.

I will not elaborate on these technical matters because I don't want to monopolize the issue. Hopefully, Ya Libnan will pick up on my momentum and publish a more detailed and better researched piece. Where I do want to go, is point to the role Lahoud has had in this retardation of Lebanese development.

Lahoud came to power some time in 1998. After a while as President, he successfully maneuvered politically to bring Hoss and his hapless team of technocrats to power. Ever since that team stepped onto the podium, Lebanon's cellular industry came under attack, and development of the internet stalled. Issam Na'man, with the encouragement of Lahoud, began harassing Cellis and Liban Cell, and prevented the introduction of any technology into the telecommunications industry that would cut the revenues generated by the Ministry of Telecommunications.

Lahoud's headbutting with Hariri cannot be manifested in any better place than in the telecommunications sector. The man's self-righteousness pushed him to crack down on anything his political rivals achieved, or were in the process of achieving. He perceived himself as the only True Lebanese, in a sea filled with blood-thirsty warlords and Saudi front-men who were using their money to do whatever pleased them in the country. He, on the other hand, was a loyal officer of the Lebanese Armed Forces - the only True Lebanese who did not turn his back on the state or participate in senseless sectarian killings. He, unlike the rest, was the only one who had Lebanon's true interests at heart. He was the only True Lebanese.

Despite his apparently spotless record, this attitude, which expressed itself excessively during Ba'bda's responses to Jumblatt (et al)'s open calls for Lahoud's resignation was the worse thing to hit Lebanon in its post-war history. With such an attitude, everything Hariri or the other politicians did was wrong. Hariri was robbing the country and the others were warlords looking after their own interests, not Lebanon's. For all we know, the man was probably justified in his actions. But in going after every single wrong doing committed by Hariri, Lahoud stunted the development of crucial economic sectors that could have led the entire region - and more. By insisting on putting his sacred Lebanese State first, he squeezed the private sector and all the added prosperity it could have brought to the country. In the end, he hurt Lebanon more than helped it.

We see the effects of Lahoud's self-righteousness today. His strong-headed belief that he knows what is best for the security apparatuses is one of the major reasons heads of the security organizations have not been appointed. Again, the man may be right, but look at what we have now - a country without security chiefs! This short-sightedness and wanton distrust in Lebanon's political class is the last thing we need right now. The Lebanese President and Prime Minister must be able to work together and compromise to come up with policies for the country that might not be the best policies, but are definitely better than gridlock or simply no policy at all.

Lahoud and his self-righteousness have cost Lebanon a whole lot since 1998. He is costing us a lot now. It is time for the man to go. We don't need a President who thinks he is the Best Man in town. We need a president who can work effectively with what he has and within his environment. Most importantly, we need a President who is wise enough to see what is best for Lebanon and shrewd enough to work with the political forces (rather than against them) to arrive at his vision.

Lahoud... Get the hell out of Ba'abda! You should have stayed as head of the Armed Forces. That is where you belong.

Update: It appears that Ya Libnan! has already published an expose on Lebanon's internet infrastructure. YL brought the article to my attention in the comment section of this entry. It turns out that Lebanon does offer "broadband" service, which is actually slower than dail-up. Click here to read more.


Lazarus said...

Ironically, de Gaulle said something of the sort (if I'm not mistaken) that military men make the worst politicians.

But I am confused by what you mean with "By insisting on putting his sacred Lebanese State first ... In the end, he hurt Lebanon more than helped it".

If that is indeed the case, then maybe it was "decent" of him to insist, since he would have been farsighted. Isn't this what people have been asking for?

I doubt this was his intention, though.

khaled said...

True, Raja.
One more thing, do you know for example that DSL had been ready in lebanon since ages, and yet it is not launched?

Do you know that ISDN was ready 5 years before its release in Lebanon?

Do you that Ericsson used to use Cellis as a testing ground for any new service they were about to launch in the world?

Do you know tha Clip+ (receiving on your mobile the numbers of the ones who called you when your mobile was off) was invented and created in Lebanon?

We were leaders, even in some cases we were more advanced than Europe and thanks to lahoud and Co, a small african country is now better than us.

Raja said...

Lazarus, I had something specific in mind when I mentioned that. Lahoud's number one priority with regards to the cellular sector was securing the largest amount of revenues for the state - disregarding the consequences his initiatives had on the sector itself.

Mazen said...

Your diagnosis is right but you are jumping to conclusions in identifying the culprits.
1° You ridicule Hoss's hapless band of technocrats. Like many Lebanese, you oversee the fact that this Hoss government was the only one in the post-Taef era that was not composed of Syrian stooges and corrupt warlords, but of independent highly competent professionals.
2° You are right about the fact that the attacks against the cell industry started at the time but the instigator of these attacks was none other than Rafic Hariri.
3° The cell industry was controlled by powerful vested interests related to politicians (Dalloul-Hariri family and Mikati family). Issam Naaman and his successor Jean-Louis Cardahi attempted to introduce transparency in that sector which led to a fierce Hariri campaign against them.
4° Foreign experts confirmed that the Broadband technology was available, but contrary to Cardahi's wishes, Rafic Hariri's government refused to engage the necessary infrastructure reforms and investments needed to launch Broadband.
5° So it goes both ways : Just like Lahoud, Hariri impeded vital reforms that did not come from his allies
6° Finally, you should not forget that it was Hariri who broke up the BOT contracts, and this has cost the Lebanese State hundreds of millions of dollars. In the subsequent phase, Cardahi's insistence on a transparent process saved the treasury important amounts, and this was recognized by KPMG and all the foreign experts who worked on the issue.
In conclusion, although I am absolutely no fan of the Lahoud regime, I think you are reacting in an emotional way and blaming him for problems caused by his fierce enemies.

Raja said...

Mazen, I was one of those people who was really excited when Lahoud came to power and when Hoss was appointed as Prime Minister. I was excited because of what you just mentioned on your first point. But in retrospect, I think it was a silly experiment. However intelligent and hard-working you are, if you do not have political clout you can accomplish nothing. That statement is as true in Lebanon as it is here in the United States. The reason that the Hoss government got into power was because Lahoud wanted them in power. Now ask: where did Lahoud get his own power from? Was it a popular madate or Syrian Tutelage? The answer is clear. So, in that sense, the Hoss government would fit your definition of Syrian stooges better than politicians who at least have some form of popular mandate (however corrupt, inept and bloody their hands may be).

With regards to your third, fourth and fifth points, I do not have the information necessary to challenge your assertions. However, I will say that your second and third points are somewhat contradictory. How can Hariri launch an attack on the cell phone industry if he himself is a prominent stakeholder? Moreover, you go on to say that Cordahi attempted to "introduce transperency" in the sector, which "led to a fierce Hariri campaign against him." It would appear that Cordahi launched the assault and Hariri reacted because his interests were under threat. If I've misinterpreted what you intended to communicate, please correct me.

As for your fifth point, you could not have put it better. In fact, that statement is the point of my entire post! When you have an antagonistic relationship between the Presidency and the Government, as was the case between Lahoud and Hariri, nothing gets done. The rivalry overshadows everything else. Therefore, when Lahoud floats a good idea, Hariri shoots it down, not because it is a bad idea but beacuse Lahoud is such a rival! Animosity and competition between the two nodes of power overshadow everything, and the country suffers as a result.

Finally, your sixt point is most likely valid. I even mention how Lahoud's initiatives may have been justified and, most likely, saved the treasury tens if not hundreds of millions of dollars. But look at the sector today. Lahoud has been responsible for the Ministry since Issam Na'man! We're barely struggling to maintain service at the level we had it a year ago. In the final analysis, Lahoud's attack on the "corrupt" industry may have saved the state millions, but in the larger scheme of things, he failed because the industry stagnated. There is one concept I'd like to introduce here before I wrap up: a concept I believe economists refer to as "directed corruption." (i.e. the state will not only turn its back on certain corrupt practices, but actually encourage it if they believe that it will lead to the growth of a particular economic sector or more). That practice, economists believe, is one of the factors that have allowed the East and South East Asian economies to become what they've become today.

Mazen said...

I think we agree on the basics.
(I meant Hariri's attacks on the reform of the cellular industry, not on the cellular industry itself).
Regarding the Hoss government, it was indeed a lost opportunity, but I am not sure if we should blame the ministers' lack of political clout or the violent media campaigns that they had to face from Day 1. A great book about that experience is George Corm's Al Foursa Al Da'i'a lil islah al mali fu loubban. He argues that his reform plans that attempted to create a productive economy rather than a purely speculative one were torpedoed by private interest groups supported by the Hariri media machine.
If I may speak bluntly, I think what Lebanon needs today is a Hoss-like character with bigger balls. And we're unlikely to find one.

Anonymous said...

what on earth is this guy: lebanese swat??

has anyone ever seen anything like it before?

Anonymous said...


hariri was indeed a saudi front-man with megalomaniac tendencies, who played on the filthiest of sectarian lines to get into power.

Not only that, but the campaign against free press and the quasi-dictatorial regime we've been suffering from can be traced to 94-95 when he ruthlessly clamped down on the media and on the workers' unions.

let's not ignore his complicity, to say the least, in the shitty situation we find ourselves in today.

and thanks to the saudi kingdom, via his son and the bought-off sham of lebanese media, the sunni-shia strife is only going to escalate, God knows to where.

Anyway, what I want to say is that the hariri family has a project for lebanon, a project that has no ones interest at heart, but that of saudi arabia and it's backers in the west. Don't trust them.

Vox Populi - Agent Provocateur said...

I found this post overly sympathetic to Lahoud. Let him go to LA, not to the army.

Anonymous said...

Just yesterday on Dubai TV, Charles Ayoub confessed that he and many other journalists were getting $ 100.000 a month from Hariri to spread his propaganda. He also said hariri would punish them severely whenever they published the mildest criticism

Anonymous said...

that's a $ 100.000 dollar each

Anonymous said...

Oh yeah ? 100 000$ each? why doesn't he retire then? SO the average journalist is making 1 200 000 $ each year? Even Melhem Karam doesn't make so much money.

Ya Libnan said...

Lebanon's telecom infrastructure was paralyzed in the late 90's and has yet to break free from the shackles imposed by the corrupt government. Lahoud and his beneficiaries have benefited grossly. The distinguished president controls several monopolies, including GDS - the only option when it comes to residential broadband internet in Lebanon. I wrote about my horrific experience trying to "upgrade" from archaic dial-up to "high speed" shame.

Broadband Internet in Lebanon a major disappointment

We certainly plan on continuing to expose all corrupt acts, any tips are always appreciated! It was great chatting Raja, keep up the excellent work.

khaled said...

Anonymous, for the record, when Mikati got the license with Cellis, he was NOT a politician, he presented abid jointly with France Telecom, and he got 33% of Cellis, and his contribution was thousands of clients even before cellis started, these were clients on his Analouge Cellular network he had set up in Lebanon before.

yes, I forgot about GDS, to those who do not know what GDS is, let me refresh your memory.
I dont know if you remember when the JLC appeared on TV and stoppped ALL cable intenrnet providers in Lebanon promising the country that this is for the best of Lebanon and urgeed those companies tht were working in neighborhood to join forces and form a large ISP.

Ever one believed him.. so those small cable companies united and each group formed its own company. To the surprise of every one, NO ONE got a license... they tried for years with no luck, the only compnay that got a lciense was GDS,which is owned by Lahoud jr.... mmmmmmmmmmm and not all those companies that were formed are forced to work with GDS to provide their ex-clients with broadband internet........ and they do not control anything as GDS controls all, so these newly formed companies ended up working as subcontractors for GDS interms if installation and support ONLY.

Anonymous said...

Apparently, the mobile sector was taken over by Lahoud and entourage and was used to finance the killing of PM Hariri.