fbpx Tarek Masoud and Rami Khouri on the future of Lebanon after the Beirut blast | Harvard Kennedy School

In the aftermath of the devastating chemical fertilizer explosion in Beirut, the Lebanese people are now trying to put their lives and their country back together. It’s a big job—the explosion not only caused widespread devastation, but also sparked a backlash against the Lebanese corrupt ruling class and government for allowing the storage of the dangerous material in a populated area. Tarek Masoud, the Sultan Qaboos bin Said of Oman Professor of International Relations at Harvard Kennedy School and faculty chair of the Middle East Initiative, talks about the situation in the Lebanese capital and beyond with Rami Khouri, a senior fellow at the School’s Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs who is in Beirut.

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Tarek Masoud: Welcome listeners. My name is Tarek Masoud. I'm a professor at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government and the faculty director of The Middle East Initiative.

As you all know, on August 4th, 2020, the Lebanese capital of Beirut was shaken by a massive explosion that killed more than 150 to 200 people, injured thousands of others, and destroyed countless homes and livelihoods. This tragedy struck a country that was already struggling under the combined weight of a prolonged economic crisis with a currency that lost more than three-quarters of its value in the last year, the global coronavirus pandemic, and deep citizen dissatisfaction with the country's leadership. Last October, Lebanon's prime minister resigned after weeks of protest against government incapacity and corruption. And after this month's explosion, his successor followed suit. Many are asking whether this is enough and feel that the entire Lebanese political system needs to go, or at least undergo some dramatic change.

Here to talk with us today about the tragedy, its aftermath, and the future of Lebanon is long longtime senior fellow of The Middle East Initiative and leading observer of Arab affairs, Rami Khouri. Rami is the founding director of the Issam Fares Institute for Public Policy and International Affairs at the American University in Beirut. An institution that I don't mind saying could really use all of our support right now. He's a longtime resident of Lebanon and was the executive editor of it's biggest English language newspaper, The Beirut Daily Star. And he's deeply embedded in the politics and culture of that remarkable city, Beirut and that remarkable country, Lebanon. He joins us now from his home in Beirut. Rami, it's wonderful to see you.

Rami Khouri: Thank you, Tarek. It's great to be with you.

Tarek Masoud: How are you doing?

Rami Khouri: I'm doing fine, but I'm flabbergasted by the enormity of what I'm seeing around me in Beirut. We'd left Beirut about a month ago to spend the semester in the United States, to where I'm working for AUB from New York city and I'm doing some writing and stuff. I came back just four to five days ago to spend a week here doing various work related things. I was absolutely knocked over by what I saw when I went down to the port area where the explosion happened. I spent about two hours driving around with a couple of friends in the car and looking at the things close up. It's staggering, the extent of the damage. And this is something that I experience often. When you see it in person, it's much, much worse than you sense it is when you just read about it in the press or even see something on TV. There's something about when you're there in person and you see the enormity, you look at this port and you see the whole scope of the port and all the neighborhoods around it. This is a staggered population and a fractured country and a battered society. It's even more dramatic when you go outside of the area where the biggest material damage happened to buildings and stuff. And you see like Hamra street, which is one of the biggest commercial boulevards, half of the shops are closed. And this is because of what happened before the explosion.

So this is a country that has experienced a series of devastating blows. I mean, if there was a country that was the equivalent of Job in the Bible, or Ayyub in the Quran, it would be Lebanon. Because it's like somebody is making the country suffer as much as it can to see what would happen and has been hit by the economic blow, the banking crisis, the uprising, the government failures, the lack of electricity, water is declining, there's no jobs for young people. And then the COVID-19 happened and shut down the economy, regional trade stopped. It's incredible how much pressure has been brought to bear on the country. And it directly hits every family in their pocketbook, in their home. And then this massive explosion. And then the culminating indignity that the population feels of which already they were feeling bad and protesting against their political elite. The culminating one was that nobody in the government came out and said anything for the first three or four days, hardly any statement by the president or the prime minister or ministers. And it was up to the people to go out and clean up the streets.

It's a very fractured, a very polarized country, and it's not so much polarized like it used to be: politically or sectarian-wise. It's polarized by the ruling power elite and the rest of the people. It's a very problematic situation for Lebanon. The counter to that though is the incredible human vitality. In response to all of these terrible things, the vitality of the Lebanese people coming out into the streets, cleaning up, helping each other, amazing. Hundreds and hundreds of spontaneous self-help organizations, neighborhood based most of them. So it's showing the best and the worst of the Arab world.

Tarek Masoud: I mean, the thing that struck me was the very limited reaction of Lebanon's political leadership after the explosion. What do you attribute that to? Is it simply a tone deafness, or is there something else going on?

Rami Khouri: This has been going on for about 15 or 20 years or so. It's really the culmination of the recent process by which the ruling political elite has done essentially nothing but enriched itself. Services have declined across the board; education, energy, water, transport, any public service has steadily declined, forcing people to get private sector alternatives, which they pay for. And these private sector alternatives are very closely linked to chronic capitalists who are in cahoots with the ruling elite. So the ruling elite essentially has divorced itself from its citizenry. You still have sectarian leaders; Maronites, Shia, Sunni, Druze, whatever, who have their own followers, but that process is becoming narrower and narrower. The number of followers who would blindly support their sectarian leader is not what it used to be because all of those people are suffering the poverty, the lack of services, the lack of hope, lack of jobs that everybody else's. And we've seen it very clearly, not just in the demonstrations, but we see it in the media and signs in the street. And of course, the culmination of this was about two weeks ago in the big demonstration they had after the explosion, where the protestors put up effigies of all the leaders. So they had Hassan Nasrallah and Michel Aoun and Saad Hariri hanging from hangman's nooses. It was really quite eerie. Full life-size effigies, and they're all dangling from the nooses. This became the kind of model of social media and the protesters, which is to hang them, get them out of here.

The other interesting thing is what's happening in Lebanon, and this might be more complicated than we want to discuss, but essentially Lebanon is no longer a distinct Arab society. For years, Lebanon was different. It had more freedom, more democracy, more free press, more professional development opportunities, greater pluralism, greater tolerance. It had all these things that were a little bit different than most of the rest of the Arab world. That's gone. Lebanon is now just another Arab country with a political elite that's corrupt and making a lot of money, and doesn't care about what its people are feeling or doing or experiencing. You've got citizens in their hundreds of thousands out in the street demonstrating. Like in all other Arab countries, the citizens are now saying, get the whole group out, the entire political elite, get them out. And this is what's happened in Sudan, and Algeria, Iraq and other places. And the state has become more militarized, responding with military actions to push back the demonstrators, shooting people in the eyes, shooting tear gas canisters at them. So you've got a polarized citizenry confronting a militarized state. And this is the huge confrontation now that's really taking place. If there's a heart to this, a soul and a heart to this, it’s the disdain by which the ruling elite holds its citizenry. They just don't care about them. And we see it in their actions.

Tarek Masoud: I want to pull on a couple of the strands that emerged in what you were just saying. The first is this idea that the sectarian system in Lebanon is eroding, that the basis of sectarian politics, as you said, is getting narrower and narrower and narrower, and more and more Lebanese citizens are viewing themselves as Lebanese. I'm actually not sure you said that. I guess the question is, are more and more Lebanese citizens viewing themselves as Lebanese and wanting a political system that is not erected on a sectarian basis? Are we starting to see that?

Rami Khouri: Yes, I did say that, but I didn't say it as eloquently and clearly as you did, but that's what I said. We saw this last October when the uprising started and I was there, I attended much of it. You had people in there, hundreds of thousands who gathered in all the cities. This is significant. It used to be only a protest in downtown Beirut, but this was in Tripoli, in Sidon, Nabatieh. All over the country you had people protesting, and they expressed not just a sense of national identity as Lebanese, but an exhilaration at finding that all these other people out there felt the same thing. And this was something very powerful. And this is one of the driving forces that kept these movements going, and they're still going now as they explore new ways to keep up the protest movement. So clearly, this is happening.

The sectarian system hasn't disappeared. It's still there because these guys have been in power for about 25-30 years. They've developed huge structural linkages and roots. They have money, they have guns, and they are not afraid to use either of them to keep their positions, but their money has pretty much run out. Hezbollah still has sources that it can rely on. Most of the other ones don't have huge amounts of money they can rely on. And the idea that you can send out some thugs and beat up some demonstrators and scare them away, that used to work, but it doesn't work anymore. So there's a great confrontation now between the small group of political elite oligarchic sectarian leaders, and the masses of the population who want to get rid of the system and have a more democratic accountable rule of law based system based on equal citizenship. It's not easy to do this. Only Tunisia and to an extent, Sudan have been able to do it. Egypt did it briefly in 2011, and then the army came back. So you can't easily get rid of a system that has cemented itself over so many years, but we'll see what happens. It's still an ongoing contest.

Tarek Masoud: You know, your comparison of Lebanon to “an ordinary Arab country”—when I think of the sort of the average political experience in the Arab world, it's one in which you have immiserated population that is really bereft of the tools to mobilize against regimes that really hold in their hands all of the threads of power. And you're right that there are some exceptions, Tunisia, you mentioned. Another one that I think might be becoming an exception is Algeria. There's something real happening there. But if I had been asked to bet on a country and on a population that had the wherewithal to effect a transition to a more democratic participatory politics, I would have talked about Lebanon. I would have said that though you have this sectarian dimension in Lebanon, which has been there for a long time, as you say, entrenched, nonetheless, Lebanese people are educated, they are cosmopolitan in certain ways. They've seen the rest of the world, they're less insular than many inhabitants of other Arab countries. They exist in this kind of crossroads of thought and Western and Eastern cultures, et cetera. And so I actually would have bet on Lebanon.

And then when I saw what was happening last year, and I rely on my Lebanese interlocutors and folks like you who know Lebanon, I was imbued with a tremendous sense of optimism about what would happen. And then Saad Hariri resigned, and I guess the protest movement, I wouldn't say petered out, but we didn't hear about it for a while. And then when this tragedy happened in Beirut this month, one of my initial thoughts was that it seemed to be so clearly the result of government incompetent and inattention to the welfare of the citizenry that this tragedy might once again give new impetus to this reform movement. And so that rendered me, even as I mourned those who were lost, quite hopeful about the momentum that might be given to the protest movement. Was that hope misplaced?

Rami Khouri: No, that hope was correct, but it's just so difficult to move a regime that has been in power for so long. But the regime or the power structure in Lebanon is definitely vulnerable for many reasons we discussed. And the intensity of the protest movement is expanding, not declining. It was very badly hurt by the COVID lockdowns and now there's another two-week lockdown coming up. So this has hurt it a lot. But it's clear, nobody trusts the government. For instance, after the explosion happened, the Lebanese people saw that the government was doing nothing, begging people from abroad to come and help them and give them money. So the civil society people; the universities, the journalists, the activists all mobilized. And there's an incredible movement going on right now in Lebanon with thousands of young people working together in different groups to essentially take over from the government the process of immediate rehabilitation and aid and doing things like checking which buildings are in danger of falling down to get the people out of them, which ones need a little bit of repair, where are people who need new homes, and then other things like food and jobs and things like that.

So this whole rehabilitation, humanitarian aid process is being handled largely now by the private sector and civil society. And the ones I've spoken to, because I'm monitoring this very closely, they're saying that they see this as an opportunity to show in practice how a good government operates, how you listen to your people, look at their priorities, look at their needs, mobilize resources. And all of the Lebanese activists and even some of the diplomats are telling the world outside, don't give cash to the Lebanese government, give your aid to credible humanitarian institutions, whether they're international ones like The Red Cross, or Save the Children or UNICEF or local ones. And the local ones know the situation really well. So you're getting this incredible isolation of the government system because of its own failures over all these years. And what happened was, chronologically, the power elite over the last 15 years essentially got rid of its people, stopped dealing with its people. And now, the people in turn are wanting to get rid of their government. So how this plays out, it's really hard to tell. But I think there will be ... The demands of the opposition are very clear; emergency transitional government, new election law, new election, stabilize the economy, and deal with the corrupt stolen money. So there's a few demands only that are very central and they're trying to figure out how to get this process moving.

What's different in Lebanon than other places is there is a group called Hezbollah, which is stronger than the government. Not only stronger than the government, it may be stronger than any Arab military, possibly. It doesn't have the F-16s or 35s or whatever they are that some governments do, but they're the only group that twice forced the Israelis into a ceasefire and now have got a deterrence on the border with Israel. They're enormous capabilities and military force, whether one likes them or doesn't, they have this tremendous power. Now, that's not very useful for them internally, but they are the power behind the scenes. The Syrians used to control Lebanon after the civil war and now Hezbollah is the power behind the scenes. So that's the major difference between the Lebanese situation and some of the other Arab countries.

Tarek Masoud: You know, the question of Hezbollah of courses is sort of the $64,000 question. I've been sort of obsessively reading about what exactly happened at the port. For me, the idea that all of this incredible amount of explosive material could have been stored in this place—it seems quite carelessly—for such a long period of time without anybody doing anything. Initially my reaction to that was that this was a testimonial to the incompetence of the government. Lately, we've been hearing other narratives that in fact that explosive material was there not with the knowledge of certain political parties and actors. And some have said that Hezbollah controls that port et cetera. Do we know anything, by the way, really concretely about how that material came to be there and Hezbollah's role in it being there?

Rami Khouri: There's a lot of investigation going on now by some really good Lebanese investigative journalists, and then other people internationally are exploring it too. It's clear that it came on this boat that was Russian-owned, that chartered from East Europe somewhere, and it was on its way to Mozambique, and then it stopped in Lebanon. Why was it stopped? People have different explanations. And then when it stopped there, there's different explanations about why it wasn't allowed to continue. So we know that stuff came on this boat, it was supposed to go to Mozambique, probably for fertilizer use because that's one of the uses of it, ammonium nitrate. And-

Tarek Masoud: I think it was actually purchased by an explosives company in Mozambique.

Rami Khouri: Possibly. So there's all these stories. There's many different variations on the story of why this stuff was going to Mozambique and why it stopped in Lebanon unexpectedly, why it was confiscated, and why it was left there for all these years. Nobody that I know has the definitive answer. This is one of the reasons why the opposition or the protest movement in Lebanon, and more than just the protest. Most Lebanese want a really honest investigation quickly. They don't want it to be 15 years like the Haredi assassination investigation that just finished. They want a quick, serious investigation done with real Lebanese and international people together. They don't trust the government to do it. Hezbollah has been mentioned as one possible group that might've wanted that stuff to stay there. I personally doubt that myself. Hezbollah is way too sophisticated and has many other means of shipping or storing lethal materials that it uses in its military action. Was it designed for commercial purposes? Somebody wants to make money out of it? It was worth a lot of money, presumably, for whatever use. Because it could be used for explosives, it could be used for fertilizers, and probably has some other uses too. So the answer is we don't know. We just really have to wait and see. But the demand for the credible international independent investigation is really central now.

Tarek Masoud: One of the things that has always struck me about Hezbollah, reading some of the scholarship on that movement is that it has both the military wing that you described, but also the civilian political party and other activities. And it always struck me as fairly savvy in its political activities. So the scholar, Melani Cammett, our Harvard colleague, has written a whole book about its social service operations, et cetera. Was any of that in evidence after this explosion? Did Hezbollah step up and try to provide relief, et cetera, or did they act in a different way?

Rami Khouri: It wasn't evident after the explosion, because Hezbollah supporters are further south in the southern part of the city. And I was just there today, driving around doing other things and you couldn't see damage, unlike the areas near the port. But it was evident when the COVID crisis hit and the leader crashed and the banks closed and commerce stopped and there was suddenly a huge hit to the economy, and there was tens of thousands of people who lost their jobs. Hezbollah was the first group that organized publicly visible efforts to hand out food. When there was a bread shortage at one point, they put out tables on the street with bread. Anybody could come by and pick up their bread. They provided medical clinics. They opened up something, I don't know the exact number, 20 or 30 clinics for COVID testing and other medical needs. So that's what they do best. Hezbollah means the party of God. I've always said that I'm more impressed by their party role than their religious role. They are genuinely religious. They are motivated by religious sentiment. They said clearly years ago that they can't create an Islamic state even if they'd like to, they can't do it in Lebanon. It's too pluralistic. But they're more ‘hizbu’ than ‘Allah.’ Their political organization is absolutely superb. And you see it when you interact with them. Again, if you like them or don't like them, they operate in a way that is more efficient and more disciplined, more strategic than any other group I've seen in the Arab world. And this is why they're successful. And they're directly linked to their constituents, their main constituents, which is the Shiites. The story of Lebanese Shiites is one of the great untold stories of the modern Arab world, where a community that was like third class citizens in the 1940s and ‘50s. I remember as a small child in the late ‘50s, all the maids were Shiites from the south, all the manual workers were Shiites from the south. They were like African Americans in the 1940s. And then they suddenly started with Musa al-Sadr in the ‘60s and then other groups, and then Hezbollah came later. But the picking up of the Shiites from the lowest level of society to the most powerful group in Lebanon and the most powerful military group in the Arab world is really quite a stunning story, that is important to understand how it happened and what capabilities and what kind of attitudes did they have that allowed this to happen. And that's really something that people don't appreciate enough.

Tarek Masoud: In your telling, it would not simply be a story of Iranian support.

Rami Khouri: The Iranian support is crucial, but it's not the only part. This started before the Iranians, before the Islamic revolution. You have to go back to Musa al-Sadr and the early Amal movement and stuff like that. I sense as a Greek Orthodox Christian, I sense something in the Shiite Lebanese, Southern Lebanese mindset that is really distinct in the Arab world. There's something, whether it's because they're Shiites or they're in South Lebanon or some other reason, they have this ability to focus on a mission, plan it out, strategize it, implement it, and not boast about it. Just get the work done. I often say jokingly, they're more like Germans than Arabs. Being an Arab, I can make fun of Arabs so it's okay. But they have this discipline to them, which is quite striking.

Rami Khouri: Now, they've gone so big and they've developed so many enemies now and people criticize them all the time. They're not the same Hezbollah that they were 10 or 15 years ago. They're much more vulnerable now. And Hassan Nasrallah, their leader, was one of the guys who was hung in effigy. They're very good at resistance, military resistance. They're very good at social services to their community and others, but they're not very good at politics. They don't know how to do politics very well. And they're forced now to get into the domestic political game, which they've always wanted to avoid. But they brought it on to themselves.

Tarek Masoud: I mean, if we go back to the idea that to have real political change and real political reform in Lebanon, one of the things that's going to have to be overcome is the outsized power of Hezbollah in the Lebanese kind of political system. What are you seeing now? Are we seeing the core constituent of Hezbollah, the Lebanese of Shia faith? Are they continuing to stand by the party, or are we now seeing them being as critical as everybody else of this and all the other parties?

Rami Khouri: Some of them are being critical as are some of the Maronites with their leaders and the Sunni with their leaders. So some people are critical as they've become poor and vulnerable and marginalized and have no hope. They've got five kids and no jobs for them. But the majority of their supporters are still firm because they benefit from being firm with Hezbollah.The challenge to Hezbollah is to engage more in domestic politics in a way that mirrors the requests of the demands of the protestors. And Hezbollah from its beginning was always talking about equal development, treating citizens well, meeting their needs. The same thing that the protesters are saying. But that sort of went quiet because Hezbollah then got engaged with all these sectarian leaders, and they became the sort of backroom supporters of this corrupt system. How corrupt they are, people vary, but certainly less corrupt than most of the other leaders.

But they've gotten way bigger than they were. And they have much more responsibility now because they are seen to be this power that allowed the sectarian, corrupt, inefficient, uncaring, dilapidated system to develop. And they can't get away from that. People criticize them openly no. They make fun of them. They call them the Persians, and this is unheard of. It never happened before. So the question is, how can Hezbollah engage politically in a way that responds to the demands of the majority, while maintaining its control of its military arsenal for what it calls its resistance role? This is a circle that can't be squared or a square that can't be ... Whatever it's called. Because you can't square that circle. Nobody has a solution to that. My own guess is, I've written this once or twice, is that Hezbollah must engage more in the Lebanese system on the basis of the demands of the protesters, which they would agree with; clean government, equal development, citizen rights, et cetera. Engage in true national sovereignty, but link Hezbollah military capacity to the national defense system, make it part of the defense ministry. This is not easy to do, but it seems to me the only transitional way to do this. And then the ultimate solution to Hezbollah is resolve the Arab-Israeli conflict. Once the Arab-Israeli conflict is resolved, Hezbollah then doesn't need all this armament because it says, we do this because the Lebanese government wasn't protecting the country, the Israelis did whatever they want for 30 years; attacking, occupying. They tried to set up a little own state in the south. And Hezbollah said, “We had to develop this military force.” And then the Arab-Iranian Western conflict. Those two conflicts are central to their mission.

Tarek Masoud: Just to round out our discussion of Hezbollah, the Special Tribunal for Lebanon issued its verdict this week. This is the body that I guess is responsible for adjudicating the 2005 assassination of former Prime Minister, Rafic Hariri. And the verdict, I guess, fell short of fingering the masterminds of the assassination attempt to most people believe were a combination of Hezbollah and the Syrians. Is this additional development also likely to push Lebanese people further into frustration with Hezbollah?

Rami Khouri: Not really, I don't think. I think the nature of the verdict was that it gave a little bit to everybody. So the Hariri camp got what it wanted, that they named this one guy, [Ayyash] as guilty as charged of all of the accounts. And then the other three, they were not found guilty because they said the evidence wasn't sufficient. The punctilious of the court was to me actually is spellbinding. I listened yesterday when they gave the verdict. It went on for about four hours. And it was just unbelievably interesting going over detail by detail by detail. And then they said, “We can't find this person guilty beyond a reasonable doubt.” So Hezbollah feels that it's kind of off the hook. Hariri feels that some justice has been done. But the problem is this came 15 years too late. In the period between 2005 and now, Lebanon has changed completely. And the Syrian role in Lebanon has evolved. It's still a player behind the scenes. So my guess is the verdict will not have a major impact on the political situation because there are these other factors, the explosion, the collapse of the currency, the protest movement, all of these are much bigger issues right now that people want to address.

Tarek Masoud: Given the magnitude of these issues and the clear failure of the authorities to deal with the many problems Lebanon is facing, one of the things that I've been surprised to see as a result of this is Lebanese voices. I often hear them on Twitter. I can't quite tell if they're engaging in gallows humor, alluding to things like the restoration of French colonialism, that's going to be the solution. And this week, I read an article in Foreign Policy magazine entitled, What the International Community Can Do in Lebanon and the subtitle or the tagline was, a conservatorship is unlikely, but the world can work to nudge Beirut's political class aside.. And I thought, to even talk about a conservatorship for a sovereign country in 2020 as anything other than an outlandish idea is just very striking to me. What do you attribute the fact that people are saying things like this too?

Rami Khouri: I think there's several things. These are striking phenomenon. The people who said we want a new French mandate. When Macron, the president of France came the day after the bombing, day after the explosion, when Macron came and walked in the streets with the people, people were so pleased that some official, even it wasn't Lebanese, came to see how they were doing and said, “We're going to help you.” So the call for a French mandate is a signal to the Lebanese government that we need somebody to govern us. It wasn't serious, but it was an indication. The other flip side of that, and the article you mentioned and other calls, Lebanon essentially has become a desovereignized nation. It has lost its sovereignty. It lost it a long time ago with the Saudis and the Iranians and a little bit the Israelis, the Americans on and off a little bit, not too much, and the French historically. But now, it's completely lost its sovereignty. And people are looking abroad for money, for political leadership, for humanitarian assistance to help us restructure the country and Macron is going to come back. And he said, “I'm going to come back with a proposal for a new system.” I mean, it's staggering.

So essentially this is a situation which is similar again, which puts Lebanon in the same group of almost all the countries. That they have failed the test of statehood and citizenship and sovereignty. That they don't really control all the resources. They rely on external validation, external resources. I mean, even now the UAE that once made peace with Israel, wants to buy American F-35s, it needs Israeli permission to do that. It's unbelievable. So that you're not free to go out and buy what you want, you need to be approved by some external power. And the fact that it's an Israeli power in this case is kind of fascinating, but usually it's the French, the Russians, the Iranians, the Saudis, the Americans. And the American relation to Lebanon with all these sanctions is a whole different story. So this is the explanation that this is a country that has been unable to govern itself in the last 30 years since the civil war. Before that, it was doing actually pretty well. People remember the ‘50s and the ‘60s and the early ‘70s with real serious, distinguished national leadership and good international links, but not the situation you have now where the cabinet is formed according to what you can get from Iran and Riyadh and Paris. So that's the situation, and people are fed up with this. They want to be citizens and they want to be citizens in a sovereign state, and they don't have any of these two things right now.

Tarek Masoud: Rami, there's a lot more to talk about and there's a lot more for us to dig into, but we're going to have to leave it here. I wish you and your family all the best. And every time I talk to a friend from Lebanon, I always say something like, I pray that no one close to you was hurt. And every time I say it, it feels like a ridiculous statement because I know that everybody in Lebanon feels a tremendous sense of loss. But I still detected in a lot of what you said, some real reasons for optimism, that the Lebanese people are standing up and demanding to be rendered significant in the calculus of those who've governed them. And so God willing, we'll see progress to that end. And when it happens, we'll ask you to explain it to us.

Rami Khouri: Thank you. Well, it's an amazing situation. It is this situation where the private sector, civil society, independent people, groups, and social movements are all stepping up to take charge of fixing the country. And so this is what we have to keep our eye on. Thank you for having me.

Tarek Masoud: Thank you, Rami.

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