By Georges Pierre Sassine

This article originally appeared on December 06, 2013 in The Huffington Post.

Nelson Mandela’s journey should inspire Lebanese to think not only about the type of leader they need but the type of followers they want to be.

 If Lebanon had a thousand Nelson Mandela would people follow them and allow them to lead?

Some people believe that the current political crisis in Lebanon requires a Mandela-inspired leader who transcends religious and party lines. Others argue that Lebanon needs less of a visionary and more of a manager until Syria’s crisis is resolved. Then there are the ones that call for a non-corrupt technocrat that favors meritocracy and builds institutions.

The truth is that none of these matter if Lebanese citizens do not take responsibility and become better followers. Even if Lebanon had a thousand Nelson Mandela would people follow them and allow them to lead?

Leaders cannot function without the support of followers. This is why it is misguiding to only think about leadership and it is important to think about the type of followership required in Lebanon. Better followers produce better leaders.

Barbara Kellerman, a professor at Harvard University, distinguishes five different types of followers: Isolates, Bystanders, Participants, Activists, and Diehards.

While it is hard to accurately assess where the majority of Lebanese fall on the followership spectrum, there is no doubt that the current state of affairs leaves a large portion of the population disappointed, disengaged and isolated; while others are engaged at different levels with or against the status-quo.

Since Lebanon’s civil war in 1975 the contrast between the silent majority versus louder segments of society has been a core determinant of the country’s history. Collective disengagement and pessimism is the source of many of the country’s problems. As Lebanon’s livelihood is at stake today, its survival depends on the type of followership its citizens decide to embrace.

As Kellerman explains, followers are not only important in how they relate to their leaders but also to each other. If you eavesdrop on any conversation between Lebanese you will quickly distinguish between the hopeful optimist brainstorming ideas that end political gridlock, and the naysayer that dismisses all suggestions as idealistic with a laundry list of reasons to challenge it.

 Mobilizing the silent Lebanese majority is more pressing than ever. It is only then that a “Lebanese Mandela” will emerge.

This dynamic among followers is toxic and discourages many citizens to take a more pro-active role. We need a shift in Lebanon from discussing the country’s problems — which everyone know — to debating practical solutions.

It has been widely said that people will get no better government than they deserve. Every Lebanese citizen, regardless of his interest in politics, is in a position of responsibility – especially today when the country is at a critical juncture. This is why every one of us Lebanese has to step back and reflect on our attitude towards new ideas and the future of our country.

Mobilizing the silent Lebanese majority has become more pressing than ever. It is only then that a “Lebanese Mandela” will emerge.

Georges Pierre Sassine is a Harvard Kennedy School alum. He writes about Lebanon’s public policy issues at


By Georges Pierre Sassine on June 16, 2013

This article originally appeared on June 16, 2013 in The Huffington Post.

Today, June 16, 2013, parliamentary elections were supposed to be held in Lebanon. Instead, after political parties failed to reach an agreement on an electoral law, they were postponed for 17 months under the pretext of avoiding a political vacuum.

Lebanese decision makers favored a fake sense of stability over democracy. The current “wait and see” policy until a Syria resolution is reached will only exacerbate Lebanon’s fragile position. The inflow of refugees to Lebanon will increase, economic conditions will worsen, the security landscape will deteriorate, and political gridlock will persist.

This is why it is urgent that Lebanese, leaders and citizens, actively think of ways to shield Lebanon from the Syrian crisis.

The future of Lebanon depends on the ability of Lebanese to compromise and reach an agreement to safeguard the country during this critical phase.

There are three ways to enable compromise and build consensus in Lebanon.

The first option is a foreign-brokered compromise. Foreign countries, such as the United States, France, Saudi Arabia or others could sponsor an agreement around elections and stability. This would be similar to the foreign backed 1989 Taef Agreement, which ended the fifteen year Lebanese civil war, and the 2008 Doha Agreement, which ended an eighteen month political crisis.

Unfortunately, Lebanon’s stability does not seem to be a top priority for international powers. They seem to tie Lebanon’s future directly to the success of their resolution efforts in Syria. In this circumstance, enlisting the help of foreign mediators will require local politicians to actively pursue diplomatic channels and plead their help to shield Lebanon from regional developments.

Geopolitics and external forces are key determinants of internal Lebanese dynamics. However, there are domestic driving factors that should not be underestimated.

The second option is a grass-root driven compromise. Imagine a true national public movement pressuring politicians to come together. It would be a grass-root, all citizens-included movement forcing the political class to bridge party and sectarian lines and meet their responsibility to protect Lebanon. Lebanese citizens who traditionally have taken on the role of followers have the opportunity to be leaders and shape a new political narrative.

Citizens and civil society will need to mobilize, organize and break from traditional political patterns. They should shift the Lebanese political debate from the anti-Assad March 14 coalition versus the pro-Assad March 8 coalition to a choice between conflict and stability; auto-destruction and survival.

The third option is a voluntary national reconciliation approach. The national dialogue roundtable called by caretaker Prime Minister Najib Mikati could provide the right platform for such an initiative. But in order for it to succeed and avoid the failure of the dozens of national roundtables Lebanon witnessed in the past eight years there is merit in considering new methods to facilitate dialogue.

According to Donna Hicks, a conflict-resolution specialist at the Weatherhead Center for International Affairs at Harvard University, the biggest barrier to resolving conflicts is anchored in an emotional undercurrent to any political conversation that is so powerful it derails all productive solutions. Each party considers its dignity violated by others which hijacks most political dialogues.

In the Lebanese context, the Christian community feels marginalized. Shiites have long felt neglected during Lebanon’s civil war and Israel’s occupation of the South of Lebanon. The Sunni community has been feeling targeted since the assassination of several of its leaders starting in 2005. And the list goes on, and the nuances are stark amongst political parties and individuals.

All Lebanese factions need to move away from auto-victimization tendencies and self-centered points of views and take into account the perspective of others.

This is why incorporating Donna Hick’s approach to dignity should be a preliminary requirement to the national dialogue roundtable called by Najib Mikati. It involves Muslims and Christians, March 14 and March 8, old and new rivals to start acknowledging their respective mistakes towards each other and genuinely commit to mutual change.

While idealistic and unlikely to some, this remains a realistic option to achieve a productive outcome out of the national dialogue roundtable.

In summary, a foreign-brokered agreement, a grass-root movement calling for compromise, and a national dialogue roundtable facilitated by effective conflict resolution methods are all suggestions that hopefully provoke a constructive debate on how to protect Lebanon from the conflict in Syria and the wider region. A strategy pursuing all three paths at once may be Lebanon’s best bet.

Responsibility for change in Lebanon lies first and foremost in the hands of its citizens and politicians. Now is the opportunity for Lebanese to pursue their collective interest and set an example to the rest of the Arab world.

Georges Pierre Sassine is a Harvard Kennedy School alumnus. He is a political activist and writes about Lebanon’s public policy issues at

Link to the original Huffington Post article:

By Georges Pierre Sassine

There is hope for Lebanon. Most of our problems can be resolved. Sectarianism, foreign interventions, crippling debt, corruption, deteriorating public institutions, and many other issues can be tackled if Lebanese vote for competent and honest leaders.

As 2013 elections get closer, Lebanese should actively promote people that have two major qualities. They should be effective at improving our quality of life, and have strong moral values to serve the public interest.

If we want a better future in Lebanon then there is only one way forward: we should promote effective leaders, reward courage and integrity, and punish corruption and dishonesty.Georges Sassine

The ultimate goal of elections is to have a government that is able to solve today’s most urgent problems. Unfortunately, the past several administrations have been paralyzed and Lebanese citizens are deeply frustrated with its political class. The blame is on the electoral law, money in politics, the constitution, and geopolitical developments. But the answer is not only in improving Lebanon’s social contract. We need to hire better leaders on Election Day. Our choice of people matters. Because the right people can make a poor organizational structure work well; and people with poor leadership will make the best possible organizational structure work miserably.

Therefore Lebanese need to elect leaders with the abilities to get the job done. They should have the right economic and public policy skills but should also be capable to navigate the reality of the Lebanese system.

To be effective, politicians should surround themselves with the right team. For Ministers this involves the appointment of government servants. But many Lebanese ministers find that they cannot choose or change ministry employees. The reality is that the appointment process is often paralyzed in Lebanon over tensions between candidates’ competency, religion, and loyalty.

These constraints can be circumvented. For example, a Lebanese official recently faced fierce resistance from employees affiliated to opposing political parties. Not being able to replace them, he promoted them. He gave them a disguised promotion where they were given more prestigious titles but lost their previous powers. And there are many other tactics that a pragmatist can use to navigate the reality of the Lebanese political process.

Our leaders should also have the ability to compromise and build consensus. Today, Lebanon is at a standstill and the Lebanese government ineffective. The underlying issues of disagreement will surely not be resolved overnight but the only way forward is to focus on goals we all completely share. The effective leader will not compromise on principles but should be willing to cooperate with opponents to improve daily socioeconomic issues. Lebanon is a “consensus democracy” and can only be governed by leaders who are consensus-builders.

This is why we should draw lessons from the successes and failures of Lebanese politicians. An open meeting should be called with current and past public officials to share their experiences. These lessons on how to effectively govern in Lebanon should be passed on from one generation to the next.

The second quality Lebanese should look for in their leaders is strong moral values. Lebanon needs more honesty, integrity, and courage in its leaders.

Some people might think that politics and ethics cannot coexist, especially in a country like Lebanon. But I believe that there is no inconsistency between ideals and realistic possibilities.Georges Sassine

However, some people might think that politics and ethics cannot coexist, especially in a country like Lebanon. But I believe that deep convictions are not incompatible with the most practical of things. There is no inconsistency between ideals and realistic possibilities. It is actually not realistic to solve problems unguided by moral values. And it happens that in the context of Lebanese politics moral principles have prevailed.

Each of us can think of Lebanese citizens, soldiers, and statesmen that showed character at decisive moments in Lebanon’s history. To start with Prince Fakhr-al-Dine who fought for the sovereignty of modern Lebanon. Bechara el Khouri, Riyad el Solh and several others who gained Lebanon’s independence from the French mandate, and other modern examples to draw upon.

Examining their successes and failures has led me to believe that Lebanon’s best interest will be fulfilled by those who are absolutely determined to act upon their conscience. Lebanon will be best served by people whose self-respect is more important than their popularity with others; and those with morals and values stronger than their desire to maintain office.

Some people might be cynical about their vote making a difference. But they should remember that despite the many fallacies of Lebanon’s electoral system they have the free choice of vote through the secret ballot. Lebanese citizens possess what many are longing for in other Arab countries: the freedom of choosing their own representatives and vote upon their personal conviction. Down the line it will make a difference.

If we want a better future in Lebanon then there is only one way forward: we should promote effective leaders, reward courage and integrity, and punish corruption and dishonesty.

Georges Pierre Sassine
is a public policy expert and Harvard University alumnus.