By Dr. Amine Jules Iskandar President of the Syriac Maronite Union – Tur Levnon
In 1970, during a parliamentary session, the Minister and Member of Parliament of the Metn district, Maurice Gemayel (born in 1910), collapsed from a heart attack. Appalled by the political class, he could no longer come to terms with the prevailing incompetence, indifference and general apathy, all the while foreseeing the impeding disintegration of Lebanon. He was carried out of the parliament on a stretcher, and passed away two weeks later, on October 31.
Maurice Gemayel, MP of northern Metn, headed the Ministry of Planning, which he had founded in 1954 with the goal of reviving Lebanon. Back then, he was determined to rescue Lebanon from what he believed was an imminent catastrophic disaster looming on the horizon. Widely respected at the international level, Gemayel served as the President of the FAO, the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization, from 1965 to 1969, which was based in Rome. As a man of vision, he harnessed all his knowledge to implement development projects on a scale encompassing Lebanon, the Middle East and beyond. His projects allowed Lebanon to become a bridge between the Middle East, India, China and Europe.
Among his numerous accomplishments was the House of the Future. He conducted studies on the transformation of the Arabian desert into agricultural areas and the city of Beirut into a Mediterranean port for the Gulf states. He drafted the financial policy guidelines for the Republic of Liberia and pioneered a new science known as “Causometry,” which aimed to offer humanity a new perspective wherein the State, or “the law must transition from being a police regime to becoming a harmonizer.”
As he adopted a global perspective, Gemayel stopped perceiving Lebanon solely in its local context. He used to say, “Lebanon should either become globalized or no longer exist.” According to him, this small nation could not possibly survive in isolation. Limiting itself to its Syrian environment or its Arab environment would be fatal. Its development could only be achieved by going beyond national and especially regional borders. To exist, Lebanon must play its role at the global level and in the human adventure.
A Planned Action
Maurice Gemayel wanted to save Lebanon. To do so, he didn’t rely solely on the typical rhetoric and poetry associated with the Lebanese political elite. He had a well-crafted and elaborate plan to achieve this goal. First and foremost, it was essential to put an end to the poverty that enslaved the people in favor of both the traditional feudal system and a new, equally selfish and backward feudalism. It was crucial to eliminate the mindset of pettiness inherited from the four centuries of Ottoman rule, and above all, it was imperative to eradicate the myth of a resource-poor Lebanon.
Lebanon’s impoverishment has always been artificial, as pointed out by Maurice Gemayel. Between 1840 and 1860, it was the result of Lebanon’s division into two caimacams. Then, between 1860 and 1914, the autonomous governorate of Mount Lebanon was deprived of its natural port, namely Beirut. Finally, the 1914-1918 famine was nothing but an extermination plan based on targeted impoverishment and military blockade. In turn, this implanted in the collective memory the erroneous idea of an inclination towards emigration, perceived as the country’s sole resource. No serious action or clear vision is viable until the Lebanese people have freed themselves from this myth of poverty.
As a devout Christian, Maurice Gemayel couldn’t come to terms with the despair that pervaded many of his contemporaries, who were deeply disappointed by the emerging Lebanese entity. This is not the way the Lebanese envisioned their country after so many centuries of waiting, suffering, hope, prayers and promises. Gemayel kept reiterating, “It solely depends on us to overcome this,” as he emphasized, “No one else will do it for us.” It was absolutely necessary to put an end to the policy of patch-ups and makeshift solutions in which the ruling caste excelled, and our duty was to transition to an era of planning.
The concrete solution presented by the Minister of Planning was clear and could be summarized in three points: water, electricity and the human factor.
Water is Lebanon’s primary natural wealth. The presence of roughly one hundred dams, lakes and hydroelectric power plants could enhance the entire Lebanese territory, which was known as the Water Castle of the Levant. This in-depth study, developed in minute detail, was carried out in collaboration with several experts, including Albert Naccache. It was published in 1951 in “La Planification intégrale des eaux libanaises.”
In the 1950s, Maurice Gemayel expressed concern about the deficiency in agricultural lands in Lebanon. At that time, they accounted for only 40,000 hectares out of the 500,000 hectares that could be cultivated once his plan was implemented.
Nevertheless, those 40,000 hectares have currently dwindled to a fraction of their former size, continuously threatened by a rampant urbanization and criminal quarries due to the cruel absence of a Ministry of Planning. As for the storage of rainwater and snowmelt, it currently stands at 20 million cubic meters, even though it should have reached 850 million cubic meters by now, 50 years after the demise of the Ministry of Planning. The only achievement of this ambitious and much-needed project for Lebanon was the Shabrouh Dam in upper Kesrouan, which was finalized in 2007. It can only store 8 million cubic meters of water per year, which accounts for a mere 1% of the initial target set in Maurice Gemayel’s plan.
Lack of Initiative
How did the political class contribute to our current situation? Maurice Gemayel appropriately labeled them “political professionals.” As such, their intelligence allows them to devise strategies for gracefully navigating out of challenging situations. Therefore, to avoid confronting the pressing demands of reality and to sidestep the implementation of his grandiose projects, they playfully labeled him “the man of the future,” while they kept on molding their here and now to their scale.
In reality, Maurice Gemayel was the man of the present, while they were the ones sinking, plunging and desiccating Lebanon in the pettiness of their archaism.
The extensive project of planned lakes was meant to transform the Lebanese landscape into a wealth of paradisiacal biodiversity, picturesque villages and countryside, promoting tourism in every nook and cranny of the territory.
A mountainous country that enjoys high-altitude lakes can only benefit from the law of gravity to generate clean energy. As such, hydropower becomes Lebanon’s second wealth, offering a tremendous opportunity to an industry that could benefit from a highly cost-effective energy source. In doing so, the state can provide the industrial sector with remarkable profitability, all while ensuring a healthy and conducive environment, that once again could promote tourism. The management of Lebanese water resources would have enabled a development in complete adherence to modern ecological and sustainability values. This would have consequently improved the health of the citizens on all levels. Furthermore, it’s clear that given an ample supply of water and electricity, transportation routes and public areas would have been enriched with lush greenery and public transport systems, such as electric trains or trams along the coastline, as well as funiculars to connect mountainous regions. Public transportation is known to be one of the main factors in development. So what if this transportation system had been built in compliance with sustainability and aesthetic specifications?
Maurice Gemayel believed that the plan he had envisioned had to include an extensive decentralization, a notion he deemed crucial and imperative. This governance model was starting to prevail in many countries that were ready to adjust to changes such as population growth and the intricate nature of economies.
However, the “political professionals” class fiercely clung to the heavily centralized system that allowed them to safeguard their privileges and forever keep their progeny in power. Maurice Gemayel’s speech regarding the human factor was going to target this specific feudal environment.