Hezbollah and the privatization of the state
Hezbollah’s handing in cash in the southern suburbs of Beirut and the South was hailed by its new apologists as a sign of its efficiency, as opposed to the long delays, inefficient bureaucracies, endless queues and widespread corruption characterizing the Lebanese state. If such a position can be warranted both in terms of its accurate description of the Lebanese state and the exceptional urgency of the situation, it contains a dangerous twist in the argument, a twist that relinquish the rights of these ‘supporters’ to make any criticisms of the political system.
The argument of efficiency used to justify Hezbollah’s practices mirrors the Neo-Liberal demonizing of the state in developing countries. Using corruption and inefficiency as the main deconstructive argument, the state has been dismantled, reformed and reduced in a way that fits the right-wing discourse. Hezbollah’s apologists used the same argument to justify their rejection of the state. It is curious to note that they seemed to have been influenced by the right-wing radical proposal to replace the welfare state by direct cash transfer.
Adopting such a discourse leads these new apologists to relinquish the right to criticize the reconstruction plan with all its shady deals and the past economic practices. The corruption, shady deals and redistribution that accompanied the reconstruction plan, in its public or private forms, were all justified by the need to speed things up and avoid the inefficiencies involved in state procedures. The state and the law were stepped upon by the need to reconstruct in the 1990’s and are being stepped upon again in 2006. Those who accept the latest wave of privatization of the state cannot ethically criticize the earlier wave.
Moreover, these apologists just relinquished their right to criticize clientelism, political redistribution and the accompanying corruption. There are no differences between money spent during elections or routinely spent by politicians and the handing in of cash by Hezbollah. Both aim at securing a political base, both transcend the state and both replace the political process by a process of buying votes. Those who find themselves today supporting such practices must also accept the justification of the whole Lebanese political system.
As for those who justify such practices by the needs of the population or the fact that this money is being distributed to the poor, think again. The whole Neo-Liberal discourse, as the voice of the silent majority squeezed by the state, and the whole clientelist framework are justified by the need to redistribute to the poor. As for those who would like to portray the Hezbollah as a grassroots movement distributing to the poor while the rest of the politicians distribute to themselves, just take a step back and look at where these blocks of dollars comes from. Deepening the financial openness of Lebanon, the country has become an open market for recycling petrodollars for political gains.
And why stop here? Since we privatized most of the state’s sovereign, economic and social functions, let’s continue this process. The legal system is noteworthy for its delays, corruption and inefficiency, let’s take the matters in our own hand. Next time anyone has a legal problem, go solve it yourself.
As for the argument that this was always the case in Lebanon, this is true. But this does not justify the practice. The recourse to this argument has been used regarding any reforms of the Lebanese system, be it regarding sectarianism, the privatization of the economy or of defence. The subtle difference, one that might sound hypocritical, yet that contains a crux of truth relates to the shamefulness with which it has been done. The state, as Beydoun writes, has its theoretical basis in the prudishness felt by the confessional communities toward the regime of political confessionalism. The way Hezbollah just handed in money was a direct affront to the state, an affront which is not unique in the last 15 years, yet which cannot be justified based on such a claim.
Neo-Liberalism in developing countries comes under the guise of clientelist network connected to international economic networks. The late Hariri and its reconstruction project embodied this alliance. Hezbollah today revived it in a more radical form. All those who constructed their political position and career on attacking the former, mourning the loss of the state, the notion of the public, the rise of sectarianism, etc. today joined the trend of the privatization of the state.