Lebanon's Real Economic Woes Are Syrian Induced
By Ariel Natan Pasko

Ariel Natan Pasko is an independent analyst & consultant. He has a Master's Degree in International Relations & Policy Analysis.

Here's a quiz that every supporter of Israel should know the answer to: What do the Associated Press, the Tehran Times, the Lebanon Daily Star, MSNBC, CNN, Ha'aretz, the Hindustan Times, and the Gulf News all have in common? Give up? Yes, I know it's a tough one...

They all reported about the recent conference held in France on Saturday (Nov. 23), entitled, 'The Friends of Lebanon Conference', also known as 'Paris II', since a similar donor conference like this was also held last year in Paris.

What's so special about that, you ask? I'll tell you. While all the articles dealt with Lebanon's $31 billion debt burden (almost 180% of Gross Domestic Product), the need for economic reconstruction of Lebanon after a 15 year long civil war, the appeal to donor countries for aid, and the economic reforms promised in return; none of the articles mentioned anything about the ongoing Syrian occupation of Lebanon (since 1976) in violation of UN Resolution 520, its support for terrorist groups or use of Lebanese territory for terrorist training bases, Hizbollah's virtual state-within-a-state in South Lebanon, and the detrimental effect all this has had on the Lebanese economy.

Neither did any of the prominent world leaders who attended.

French President Jacques Chirac, Italian Prime Minister Silvio Berlusconi, German Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder, Spanish Premier Jean-Marie Aznar, Canadian Prime Minister Jean Chretien and his Malaysian counterpart Mahatir Mohammed were among the leaders on hand for the conference.

Also present at the conference were the prime ministers of Belgium and Denmark. Foreign Minister Prince Saud Al Faisal headed the Saudi delegation and Undersecretary of State William Burns led the US delegation. Other participants included the European Union, the World Bank, the International Monetary Fund, Japan, and several Gulf states. 

All told, Eighteen nations, most of them represented by their prime ministers or foreign ministers, attended as well as the European Commission and eight international financial organizations.

And none of them connected Lebanese economic woes to the brutal Syrian occupation. Syria's backward 'social nationalist' economy, with all its cronyism and corruption has been exported to Lebanon, and none of these leaders have taken note.

But critics say the free world should not bail out the Syrian occupied nation until it is liberated and cracks down on terrorist organizations like Hizbollah, a group that the present pro-Syrian Lebanese regime calls a "resistance group."

After Lebanese President Rafik Hariri met with President George Bush (Nov. 18), his second visit to Washington in less than two weeks; the president of the United States Committee for a Free Lebanon, Ziad Abdelnour, said Mr. Bush ’s cozying up to Lebanon is part of a ploy to stay on good terms with Syria, a U.N. Security Council member nation that supported the resolution on Iraq November 8.

"This is a complete game that is being played for the world," Mr. Abdelnour told The New York Sun. "In order to appease people, we are basically going to provide some band-aid for Lebanon...We are still playing into Syria’s hands.

" The president of New England Americans for Lebanon, Joseph Hitti, was equally critical; telling the New York Sun, no investors will put their money in Lebanon until Syria withdraws. "All the money he [Hariri] is asking for is a waste. You cannot create conditions for a free-market economy, such as existed before the Syrians took over, in the absence of freedom and justice. The Syrians are siphoning a lot of money out of the Lebanese economy," Mr. Hitti said.

But so far, the wealthy countries are still playing the game. At the end of the conference it was announced that Saudi Arabia led the list of donors with $700 million. France and the Arab Development Fund followed with $500 million apiece. The European Investment Bank came up with $350 million. Kuwait, the United Arab Emirates and Malaysia pledged $300 million each. Italy, Bahrain, Qatar and the World Bank contributed $200 million each. Canada pledged between $100 to $200 million. Japan, The Arab Monetary Fund and the International Monetary fund committed themselves to $100 million each. The European Union pledged $80 million, Belgium committed to between $35 to $70 million and Oman promised $50 million.

The United States, Britain, and Germany didn't promise any money. The United States said it was waiting for Lebanon to reach an agreement with the International Monetary Fund concerning economic issues.

Lebanese Prime Minister Hariri (accused by many Free Lebanon activists of being a Syrian puppet), told the gathering, that he intends to raise $5 billion by privatizing utilities, such as water, telephone, electric, and transportation, and by cutting about 9% off the government budget. He also called on donor countries to provide Lebanon with long-term low-interest loans, so it can pay off higher-rate short-term debt.

Michel Aoun (a former Lebanese army commander & an important political activist) opposed to the pro-Syrian regime in Lebanon, put it best, when he wrote recently in the Lebanon Daily Star, "Paris II is yet again endorsing the status quo of the Syrian presence in Lebanon and the disastrous rule of the team at the helm. Previous experience over the last several years leaves no room for any hope whatsoever that funds allocated to Lebanon will be used wisely. Any economic relief package in the absence of prior political reform aiming at the recovery of national sovereignty would simply be an exercise in futility. It is ludicrous to think that there could be an economic solution to a problem that is political at the core."

Describing the economic distortions of Syrian occupation he wrote, "The allocation of public bids and the contracting of large projects are funneled first and foremost to the benefit of Syrian officials who handle the Lebanese file. Agreements have been signed between Lebanon and Syria that legitimize economic and trade exchanges that grossly favor the Syrian side."

He continues, "Successive governments since 1990 are largely to blame for the economic collapse of the country. Bad bets, squandering of strategic resources, nepotism, cronyism, corruption, and discretionary powers have been the distinguishing features of the Taif [1989 Agreement] regime. So much so that the policies of that regime have been the antithesis of a liberal economic model."

He concludes, "The Syrian presence cannot and should not be endorsed. Bad management should not be rewarded. Any economic aid to Lebanon must be accompanied by political reforms aimed at reinstating sovereignty and democracy."

One has to stop here and ask some questions. Are the 'Friends of Lebanon' truly intending to help it, or are they catering to Syria, for its support against Iraq? Is there a double standard here? Syria occupies and colonizes its once sovereign neighbor in stark violation of UN resolutions & international law, while these same 'friends' look the other way; yet they condemn Israel at every opportunity, for its occupation of the 'Palestinians', a group who has never been soverign, nor a member state in the UN. Why has France, Britain, the US and others, elevated Syria to a position of prominence in the UN, by supporting its seating on the Security Council?

This is Syria, a terrorist supporting state (since 1979, according to the US State Dept.). This is Syria who occupies its neighbor. This is Syria who consistently has opposed efforts by the US & EU to bring 'peace' to the Middle East.

And finally, why are several wealthy EU countries, Japan, Arab states, and global financial institutions proposing to subsidize (what for all practical purposes, seems to be) the occupation & subjugation of Lebanon (since Syria will benefit immensely from the aid money)?

The faster Syria gets out of Lebanon in accordance with UN Resolution 520, the faster Lebanon will be able to put its economic house back in order. That's what the 'Friends of Lebanon' need to help bring about, if they really want to be called, 'Friends of Lebanon'.


(c)2002/5763 Pasko