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Lebanon's government is dysfunctional for a reason

Lebanon's government is dysfunctional for a reason

The precise demands of a leaderless anti-government protest movement in Lebanon are hard to pin down. But one recurring theme among the crowds that forced Prime Minister Saad Hariri to resign last week has been a call to retool the country's sectarian political system, which gives the country's top jobs to people based on their religion. It's a hard way to govern a country efficiently– no wonder people are mad! But in Lebanon's case, the political dysfunction is partly by design.


Why is Lebanon's system like this? When Lebanon declared independence from France in 1943, its leaders had to defuse tensions between the country's various Christian and Muslim populations. Their solution was a National Pact: the President would always be Christian, the speaker of the parliament a Shia Muslim, and the prime minister a Sunni Muslim. Parliamentary seats were also dished out based on a 1932 census which showed Christians in a slim majority. There has not been a census since. And that's part of the problem.

The National Pact system held for thirty years until sectarian tensions – driven in part by a fast-growing Muslim population's sense of being underrepresented – exploded into a 15-year kaleidoscopically complicated civil war that drew in a host of foreign powers and left some 120,000 people dead.

To end the fighting, the war's main players agreed to the Ta'if Accords in 1989, which tweaked the sectarian system to give Muslims more power, but more or less left things in place. That cemented a fragile peace, but it also led to massive corruption, ballooning national debt, and political dysfunction as leaders got used to doling out inflated state contracts to cronies from their own sects.

Lately, it's been getting worse. Between 2014 and 2016, it took the parliament 46 tries just to elect a president. And a few years ago, an (almost literal) dumpster fire of graft and sectarian squabbles halted garbage collections nationwide, giving rise to the You Stink movement, a precursor to today's protests.

Is it possible to undo this system? Not easily. This is a deeply entrenched arrangement that goes back generations. Political bosses may squabble with each other over the size of their slices, but they'll likely band together to keep from losing the pie altogether.

Worse yet, loosening or doing away with the sectarian system could bring results that not everyone would like. Shia Muslims are almost certainly the largest sectarian group now (again, no one knows, because the government has avoided a census for decades.) That means that in a more open system, Hezbollah would stand to gain immense power, potentially putting the government in the crosshairs of the US, which regards Hezbollah as a terrorist group. Christian minorities would also worry about their safety in a system unless it gave ironclad guarantees of their security.

The upshot: Thirty years ago, Lebanon made a bargain – peace, but at the cost of political dysfunction. Today a generation raised after that moment is fed up with the status quo, but it remains to be seen whether it's possible, or desirable, to fundamentally change it.

Microsoft released a new annual report, called the Digital Defense Report, covering cybersecurity trends from the past year. This report makes it clear that threat actors have rapidly increased in sophistication over the past year, using techniques that make them harder to spot and that threaten even the savviest targets. For example, nation-state actors are engaging in new reconnaissance techniques that increase their chances of compromising high-value targets, criminal groups targeting businesses have moved their infrastructure to the cloud to hide among legitimate services, and attackers have developed new ways to scour the internet for systems vulnerable to ransomware. Given the leap in attack sophistication in the past year, it is more important than ever that steps are taken to establish new rules of the road for cyberspace: that all organizations, whether government agencies or businesses, invest in people and technology to help stop attacks; and that people focus on the basics, including regular application of security updates, comprehensive backup policies, and, especially, enabling multi-factor authentication. Microsoft summarized some of the most important insights in this year's report, including related suggestions for people and businesses.

Read the whole post and report at Microsoft On The Issues.

Donald Trump's presidency has irked a lot of people around the world. And in fairness, that's no surprise. He was elected in part to blow up long-standing assumptions about how international politics, trade, and diplomatic relations are supposed to work.

But while he has correctly identified some big challenges — adapting NATO to the 21st century, managing a more assertive China, or ending America's endless wars in Afghanistan and Iraq — his impulsive style, along with his restrictions on trade and immigration, have alienated many world leaders. Global polls show that favorable views of the US have plummeted to all-time lows in many countries, particularly among traditional American allies in Europe.

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GZERO Media, in partnership with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and Eurasia Group, today hosted its second virtual town hall on the hunt for a COVID-19 vaccine and the challenges of its distribution.

The panel was moderated by New York Times science and health reporter Apoorva Mandavilli and featured Gates Foundation's Deputy Director of Vaccines & Human Immunobiology, Lynda Stuart; Eurasia Group's Rohitesh Dhawan, Managing Director of Energy, Climate & Resources; Gates Foundation CEO Mark Suzman; and Gayle E. Smith, the president & CEO of ONE Campaign and former Administrator of the U.S. Agency for International Development.

Watch the full video above.

The enormous scale of the coronavirus pandemic was captured earlier this week as the global death toll surpassed 1 million people. As the weight of the grim milestone sunk in, the New York Times noted that COVID-19 has now killed more people this year than the scourges of HIV, malaria, influenza, and cholera — combined. While some countries like Germany and South Korea are models in how to curb the virus' spread through social distancing and mask wearing, other countries around the world have recently seen caseloads surge again, raising fears of a dreaded "second wave" of infections. Here's a look at countries where the per-capita caseload has spiked in recent days.

"The jury is out" European Central Bank President Christine Lagarde says when asked if things in Europe will get economically worse before they get better. "All I know is that it's going to be a journey, and probably a long journey." Her conversation with Ian Bremmer is part of a new GZERO World episode.

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