A Lebanese Abroad

Opinions from an opinionated Lebanese abroad about Lebanon's politics, business and the future of a United Lebanon.

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Sunday, April 17, 2005

Lebanon and Syria: Same Past, Different Future, Part I

Part I: Not so fast on economic integration

Those (politicians) still defending Syria today and its regime are making a grave mistake. As long as Syria is governed the way it is today, there is not much that Lebanon can learn from its neighbor. In the past 29 years, Syria has shown Lebanon some pretty bad habits: how to lie, be corrupt, steal, deceive others, blackmail, threaten people, manipulate, infiltrate, spy on, abuse human rights and literally terrorize. They basically exported Syria’s “values” to Lebanon. So why continue paying lip service to a country that has trampled all over every single Lebanese sovereignty characteristic?

Syria’s system is not the model for anything. It is despised by all Western countries that see it as a backward, authoritarian, communist-like police-state,- in the same league as Cuba, North Korea, and the ex-USSR. So, why defend Syria and continue associating ourselves with them? The last 10 years have been bad enough for Lebanon’s image abroad as both Syria and Hezbollah gave Lebanon its bad name.

Despite what is being said about our brotherly and historical past, where Lebanon wants to go and where Syria is going are two different paths. We are not tied by the same umbilical cord, and if we were, economically speaking,- we could not afford to move forward because Syria is like an anchor that will drag us down. Syria is economically inferior to Lebanon in almost every aspect (more on the economic comparison of both countries in Part II). The numbers are stacked against any type of economic integration that is being dreamt-up by the Syrian regime. Economic integration makes sense when two or more countries are more or less at the same level in their socio-economic position and geo-political status.

Let’s tackle these aspects. Society-wise, yes we speak the same language and have some familial ties (and so do the U.S. and Canada by the way- so what’s the big deal?) But over the last 24 years, Syria has doubled its population, while barely doubling its economy, so they are producing poorer babies. Meanwhile, Lebanon managed to quadruple its GDP of 1976. Economically, Lebanon’s per capita GDP is $4,300 vs. Syria’s $1,200 so that’s another very large gap. Politically, Lebanon is a democracy (actually, it’s trying to become an even better one). Syria’s political system is a dictatorship. Geo-politically, Lebanon is in an enviable position. It is now the new darling of Middle-East democracy and is poised to receive record foreign direct investment as soon a new government is in place. On the other hand, Syria is still in the “dog house” as far as the United States and the European Union are concerned. Actually, Chirac and Bush don’t trust Assad anymore because his words are worthless, and he is close to getting the Arafat treatment. Even worse, Syria’s friends are limited to Iran and Turkey.

So frankly, I am not sure what our politicians mean when they talk about “sisterly”, "special" or “normal” relations with Syria. Given the mess these relations are getting out of, we need to drop any vague language and start to define a much more sophisticated and transparent framework for these relations. It should be based on the socio-economic and geo-political realities, and not on assumptions of business as usual.

If we keep doing what we’ve been doing, we’ll keep getting what we’ve been getting, and that path is probably not acceptable to a majority of Lebanese.

(Stay tuned for Part II)

13 Comments:

Blogger Mustapha said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

3:09 AM  
Blogger Mustapha said...

Thinking man,

Since you brought up the example of the U.S.A, why don't we look at the USA/Mexico relationship?
Mexico is much poorer than the U.S., but still, the US producers would LOVE to have access to the Mexican market and U.S. businessmen LOVE the cheap labor mexicans provide.

It IS in our long term interest if we let the Syrian economy grow because they are a potentially good market for our goods. If we employ cheaper Syrian labour, our goods will be cheaper and the Lebanese consumer will ultimately benefit.
Also, rich Syrians put their money in Lebanese banks (like BLOM with 60% of its assets from Syria) which is lent to Lebanese businessmen to grow their businesses

Since you are a thinking man, you might want to think of why the US is cozying to Communist China and think of why 15 European rich nations had their mouths watering at the prospect of 10 poor nations joining the EU.

Maybe you'll understand then, why economic integration is good for both Lebanon AND Syria.

Mustapha
The Beirut Spring

3:36 AM  
Blogger ThinkingMan said...

Mustapha- Thanks for your comment.
I am for all kinds of economic co-operation and "eventually" integration, but only after specific milestones are met.
US/China and EU/Eastern EU relations have all kinds of detailed and specific clauses and characteristics that are taken into consideration; what I am contrasting this to is that Syria was "shoving" so-called economic integration ties and common customs wall, etc. (see my other post on the Syria-Lebanon communique), but without a proper understanding of the details of these agreements, and without any transparency whatsoever to its contents and without any parliamentary consultations and public awareness. These days are ending.
So, please don't mis-understand my message. Basically, I am pointing to the realities and facts and saying Let's step back a little and re-asses these relationships and develop new ones based on an equal footing and only implement those that make sense to BOTH countries and wait for the others until one catches up to the other in at least the minimum basic requirements.
This should be a carrot approach, not a stick approach.

[ps: The banking example is fine- i never criticized it; actually once they develop their private banking system, they will probably need us less so it works both ways- but I don't want them to "hold us hostage" because they have their deposits in Lebanon. Wealthy Saudis with money in Switzerland don't blackmail the Swiss government on their European policies for e.g.]

5:04 AM  
Blogger Raja said...

what scares me about any talk of "economic integration" is that in the case of both Syria and Lebanon, it is very dificult to seperate the politics from economics.

In Lebanon, you do have an independent merchant and business class, eventhough it is small and struggling to survive. In Syria, on the other hand, it is extremely difficult to seperate those who are politically powerfull from those who are economically powerfull - they are basically one and the same. In Lebanon, the rich can become MPs in parliament, and maybe join governments, in Syria, almost all of the rich are military men, ba'athists, and mukhabaratis.

Let us not forget that one of the major strategies the Syrians used to ensure that Lebanon would never leave its orbit was economic!

I'm all for Lebanon-Syria cooperation and economic integration (recall my MEU post http://lebaneseblogger.blogspot.com/2005/03/enough.html).

However, for me, some fundamental prerequisites need to be met. Lebanon's system is bad, but Syria's is much worse. I don't see what we can gain from them except more headache and inertia towards reform.

9:23 AM  
Blogger Raja said...

This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.

9:25 AM  
Blogger ThinkingMan said...

raja- great point about not being able to separate business and politics...same as religion and politics!

The day that newspaper headlines start shifting to the economy and business, and away from politics or politico-religious discussions.....well that will be a great day for Lebanon.

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