As it tries to pull out of its economic tailspin, Lebanon badly needs a functional cabinet able to make reforms. Such a government must have broad support, including from Hizbollah. The party’s domestic and external foes should accordingly stop attempting to curtail its role.
Political deadlock over govt formation persisted while senior officials were charged with negligence for deadly August Beirut blast, prompting pushback from political elite. After Central Bank governor Riad Salameh 1 Dec said subsidies for basic commodities could only continue for two more months, protesters 7 Dec took to streets across country, including in capital Beirut; UN Children’s Fund (UNICEF) and International Labour Organization 7 Dec warned removal of subsidies would inflict “social catastrophe”; Diab 29 Dec said rationing foreign reserves could stretch subsidies for another six months. French President Macron and UN Sec-Gen António Guterres in virtual aid conference 2 Dec announced creation of fund handled by World Bank, UN and EU, while reiterating aid was contingent upon formation of new govt and political reforms. PM-designate Hariri – whom lawmakers nominated in Oct to form new govt – 9 Dec presented President Aoun with line-up of new govt but deadlock persisted; Aoun and Hariri 14 Dec blamed each other for delay in govt formation. Meanwhile, Fadi Sawwan – judge responsible for investigating 4 Aug deadly Beirut port explosion – 10 Dec charged caretaker PM Diab and three former ministers for negligence; move sparked criticism among political elite as Diab 10 Dec questioned legitimacy of charges and 14 Dec refused questioning, while caretaker Interior Minister Mohammed Fahmi 14 Dec said he would not enforce arrest warrants for officials, and two of accused ex-ministers asked Court of Cassation to replace judge. Sawwan 17 Dec suspended investigation for ten days to respond to legal challenges to his authority. After various private universities announced tuition hikes, clashes 19 Dec broke out between police and student protesters. In north, group of Lebanese nationals 26 Dec set fire to refugee settlement, destroying camp and injuring at least four; army 27 Dec announced arrest of two Lebanese and six Syrian nationals allegedly involved in altercation that led to incident. Following postponement of maritime border talks with Israel scheduled for early Dec, Aoun 2 Dec reiterated difficulties in negotiations could be overcome, while U.S. Sec State Pompeo 22 Dec said Israel and Lebanon remained “far apart”.
Lebanon’s reeling economy badly needs outside aid. Yet the political class, which largely created the problems, is resisting necessary change. The European Union should keep limiting its assistance to humanitarian relief until Lebanese politicians make reforms that benefit all citizens, not just the privileged few.
An uprising of unprecedented scope has rocked Lebanon as the country’s economy tumbles deeper into recession. Poverty and unemployment could lead to violent unrest. Donors should put together an emergency package but condition further aid upon reforms to tackle corruption, a major grievance driving protest.
Most Syrian refugees in Lebanon have thought many times about going home but in the end deemed the risks too great. Donors should increase aid allowing the Lebanese government to continue hosting the Syrians, so that any decision they make to leave is truly voluntary.
Four years after plunging into Syria’s civil war, Hizbollah has achieved its core aim of preserving the Assad regime. Yet with no clear exit strategy, the Lebanese “Party of God” faces ever greater costs unless it can lower the sectarian flames, open dialogue with non-jihadist rebel groups and help pave the way for a negotiated settlement.
The fate of the border town Arsal mirrors Lebanon’s many policy failures. The government applies heavy-handed security at the expense of basic services and fair economic opportunities. It should change its policies to become more flexible, accountable and supportive of Syrian refugees – and receive more international help in return.
Turkey is also one of the candidates to rebuild Beirut harbour. There is also a section within Lebanese society – amongst Sunni Muslims – who have some sympathy for Turkey’s neo-Ottoman project.
The Lebanese state has been hollowed out by decades of corruption and patronage, and this has undermined due process and any sense of accountability.
[The Trump administration] is content allowing Israel to take the lead in pushing back against Iranian and Hezbollah influence in Syria.
The real risk [for Israel and Lebanon] is that of a miscommunication or accident being a trigger of a conflict across their border.
[The return of Assad’s forces to the border] has the potential of creating a more united front of resistance between Lebanon and Syria against Israel.
Hezbollah thrives on its position of being a state within a state, an alternative provider for all kinds of things [when Lebanon's political institutions are weakened].
The accumulation of crises is driving ever greater numbers of Lebanese into absolute poverty. While the COVID-19 lockdown is gradually easing, the loss of jobs and purchasing power triggered new protests that are turning violent and may prefigure the disintegration of state capacity and institutions.
A new wave of popular protests has jolted an already deeply unsettled Arab world. Nine years ago, uprisings across the region signalled a rejection of corrupt autocratic rule that failed to deliver jobs, basic services and reliable infrastructure. Yet regime repression and the protests’ lack of organisation, leadership and unified vision thwarted hopes of a new order. As suddenly as the uprisings erupted, as quickly they descended into violence. What followed was either brutal civil war or regime retrenchment. Tunisia stands as the sole, still fragile, exception.
Originally published in Valdai Club
After months of mass protests, a new Lebanese government may take office soon. Yet it must make reforms that strike at the very vested interests that appointed it. Outsiders should give the cabinet a chance to succeed but plan for emergency aid if it fails.