The peculiar thing about the Lebanese newspaper Al Akhbar is that they do not really publish news as such but commentaries on news. They assume that you have read or watched the news already and they build on it. If you’re looking for “what happened” on a particular day, the last place you want to go to is Al Akhbar because you won’t find much at that level. Instead you may probably have literary exercises, political positions, twisted analyses, based all on material you are supposed to already know.
I once asked a journalist at Al Akhbar why they inflict on readers this frustrating experience and he answered that in fact, according to statistics (the sanctified word), readership goes up with this type of writing.
In any case, I write this post because for once Al Akhbar published an article, although within the frustrating “polemicist” category, on Sri Lanka’s state and economy, but that still makes great points for Lebanese. The main point of the writer Muhammad Nazzal, is that although Lebanese people think highly of themselves and very lowly of the Sri Lankis who work practically as slaves for them, Sri Lanka as a country fares ten times better than Lebanon in virtually all areas: Industry, agriculture, trade, food, education, public infrastructure, political system.
The endearing discoveries of Nazzal are still worth mentioning: Phone bills are way cheaper, Internet much faster. Also the literary exercises so dear to Al Akhbar journalists are not bad this time as shown by this nice comparison: ”The white lines on the roads of Sri Lanka rival with the whiteness of the peaks of Sannine and the Cedars”.
According to Nazzal, instead of privatizing the whole sea coast like the clever Lebanese did, in order to make sure the average citizen was strictly forbidden from enjoying the most natural resource in the world, the sea, Sri Lankis kept their coast, which Nazzal notes is ten times larger than the Lebanese, completely public in order to allow unhindered access to whosoever wishes. As a matter of fact, I can add here that Cyprus did the same – with municipalities of each city managing the coastal area where constructions are prohibited and where a small fee is paid by both locals and tourists to the state when if they wish to hire an umbrella or sunbed – not if they wish to access the beach.
One learns from Nazzal that Sri Lanka has a great history spanning millenniums, and that Sri Lanka, unlike Lebanon, just successfully formed a government after decades of wars and communal divisions, based on a representative electoral law (even though just like Lebanese they have different communities who perceive themselves as rivals).
More importantly, Sri Lanka is sustained by what it produces. The agricultural sector of Sri Lanka is in bloom, whereas in Lebanon one imports virtually everything, especially primary commodities – something every country should at least be producing to a certain extent, and what Lebanon does not import it destroys with horrible quantities of pesticides and chemicals.
The list here is endless and this article is really worthy of being read in full. So, what’s the big difference between Sri Lanka (and Cyprus actually), and Lebanon? Lebanon has no state but a bunch of warlords finding new ways to keep extracting resources from the economy and society, although every once and a while they clash and they have to re-arrange the rules of the game in order to continue.
My other theory is that whereas Cyprus and Sri Lanka were colonized by the British, Lebanon was colonized by the French, and this made a huge difference throughout time. But that is the subject of another post…