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By Ghassan Michel Rubeiz What keeps Lebanon from sliding into a failed state? The Lebanese appreciate their country but not their politics. Statesmen are not held in high esteem in Beirut. Politicians rotate positions through elections but leaders do not change. Since May, the parliament has failed to agree on how to replace the outgoing president. Borders with Syria are open to local and expatriate fighters. The (Islamic jihadi) ISIL has active cells inside Lebanon. A third of the Lebanese population now consists of Syrian refugees or camp residents displaced from Palestine in 1948 or 1967. Lebanon has been vulnerable even before Syria’s rebellion. Corruption has been endemic. Cheating the government is considered “smart.” Driving through red lights is “courage.” The military is weak. Militias dominated the country during a 15-year civil war that ended in 1990. Major armed groups disarmed as the civil turmoil ended, with a major exception: Hezbollah. This Shiite militia gained popularity after it forced Israel to withdraw from Lebanon (in 2000) and showed some postwar magnanimity in reconciliation with other Lebanese communities. Hezbollah has assigned itself the role of a permanent “Resistance” against Israel, but now the Lebanese are sharply divided on Hezbollah’s fighting in Syria. There are those who believe that Hezbollah has saved the minorities of Syria and Lebanon from ISIL’s evil and those who believe that Hezbollah’s alliance with Bashar al-Assad has brought in ISIL. Now Hezbollah provokes the majority. The war in Syria has significantly curtailed the Lebanese tourist industry. National debt, one of the largest (per capita) in the world, is on the rise again. The future of Lebanon is intimately tied to Syria’s future. And Syria’s future is connected with Iran’s. By Nov. 24, the outcome of nuclear negotiations between Tehran and six major powers will be known. Should Iran strike a deal with the P5+1, President Hassan Rouhani would be expected to gently ease out Assad from power with a face-saving formula. Such a diplomatic feat could be achieved if Iran is freed from sanctions. The rebuilding of Syria would then be possible. Am I dreaming? Developments in Lebanon and Syria could be an outcome of larger dynamics. Local papers discuss a grave scenario to “fragment the region,” to “divide the already divided,” into sectarian mini-states. Many are convinced that Israel and the United States exploit internal Arab tension to reorganize the region into smaller, sectarian, dependent and docile states. Western analysts consider such “manufactured Mideast conspiracy theories” as defense mechanisms to project blame on the West and thus avoid taking responsibility for what went wrong in the Arab predicament. Political pundits have predicted a rapid pace of deterioration for Lebanon. Is Lebanon’s resilience a sign of society’s cohesion? Lebanese society is still fairly integrated despite some demographic distancing between religious communities during the latest civil war. Christians and Muslims still share neighborhoods, workplace, schools, leisure facilities and business enterprise. Even with its sectarian power sharing — where the president has to be a Maronite Christian, the prime minister a Sunnite and the speaker of the parliament a Shiite — Lebanon has been a passable democracy since its inception in 1920. Of the 18 recognized ethnic and religious communities, none feel oppressed by their neighbors. There are no strong majorities, albeit, Christians have an advantage in education, Shiites in the military and Sunnites in access to Arab connections and petro dollars. Civic society is vibrant. Lebanon has experience in women’s empowerment, market economy, weaving East-West relations, education, tourism, banking, international relations and interfaith exchange. With freedom comes tolerance. The Lebanese people have been generous in hosting Arab and non Arab refugees over the past century. Eight percent of the Lebanese are of Armenian descent. Lebanon draws moral and financial resources from its expatriate community. The expatriate Lebanese appreciates Lebanon as a concept which underlies celebration of diversity. The outside world used to view Lebanon as “Switzerland of the Middle East.” The international community remains in solidarity with the Lebanese “experiment.” Will this experiment survive as Syria is unraveling? There is no easy answer. Lebanon is dysfunctional but resilient.