“Little hope remains”: Lebanon paralysis and state collapse | Business and economic news
Beirut, Lebanon – Lebanon has been without a fully functional government for nearly 10 months, with President Michel Aoun and the returning Prime Minister Saad Hariri unable to agree on a cabinet.
The disagreements relate to the number of ministers and how they will be distributed according to sectarian and political representation. The two have been unable to resolve their differences, having met 18 times since Hariri’s appointment in October.
Hariri and his political party, the Future Movement, insist they are pushing for a reform-oriented technocratic government.
“They [Aoun and allies] want a government they can control and have a veto, ”Future Movement MP Mohamad Hajjar told Al Jazeera. “Hariri’s expert government has a sectarian balance and representation of Muslims and Christians, but they want a government based on quotas.”
Meanwhile, Aoun and his Free Patriotic Movement Party say they don’t want a veto, but a more representative government.
“It has become evident that the prime minister designate is incapable of forming a government capable of salvation,” Aoun said in a letter to parliament from his office last week. “He does it [Lebanon] a captive as he traps the people and the government and takes them as hostages pushed into the abyss.
The president’s office was not available for comment on Al Jazeera.
Political paralysis is not a rare occurrence in Lebanon, a country with a delicate system of sectarian power sharing. It was once without a president for almost two and a half years until Aoun came to power in late 2016. But things are much more different than they were then.
Lebanon is now reeling from a crushing economic crisis that has pushed more than half of its population into poverty. In addition to having to deal with a local currency that has lost over 85% of its value in just over a year, people are also struggling to afford basic groceries which have become 400% more expensive. .
In 2020 alone, Lebanon witnessed the free fall of its currency as the COVID-19 pandemic further pulverizes its economy. In August, the devastating explosion in the port of Beirut killed more than 200 people, injured around 6,000 others and razed many parts of the capital.
‘There is very little hope left’
With the country running on its last financial reserves, the international community has pledged support for Lebanon on the condition that it forms a government and enacts economic and structural reforms.
Over the past three years, states and international organizations have pledged to provide Lebanon with billions of dollars in loans and aid to repair poor infrastructure, rebuild the shattered port of Beirut and an International Monetary Fund program to get out. the country of its economic difficulties. .
The Office of the United Nations Special Coordinator for Lebanon told Al Jazeera in a statement that the country’s leadership must “put the country’s interest above political and personal agendas” to help it recover.
“The biggest impact of this crisis is on the Lebanese people who are paying a heavy price,” said the UN office. “There is very little hope left for the people.”
Despite all this, the Lebanese leadership has not budged. Aoun hinted that Hariri would have to resign several times, and some officials close to Hariri hinted that the option was on the table.
“It’s a possibility but not a decision,” Hajjar said. “For now, he has chosen to take responsibility and commitment to a government.”
While repeated statements by the international community and meetings with Lebanese officials came to nothing, the former Lebanese colonizers tried to be more proactive.
French President Emmanuel Macron flew to Beirut several days after the port explosion in early August and offered humanitarian aid but conditioned it on structural reforms. Macron and other world leaders have raised around $ 300 million in humanitarian aid for the country.
Macron returned at the end of August, pushing for government formation and reforms before any aid was distributed to rebuild the port and help its struggling economy. He disseminated a draft economic roadmap, often dubbed the “French initiative”, which included reforms such as the restructuring of the electricity sector, the implementation of a forensic audit of the accounts of the central bank and a resumption of negotiations with the International Monetary Fund.
The Lebanese authorities have promised to commit to this plan. Macron and the devastating explosion seemed like a turning point, but it wasn’t. At the end of September, the French president accused the country’s leaders of “collective treason” and gave them six weeks to implement the French initiative. This did not happen, and even France’s travel restrictions on Lebanese officials accused of hampering government formation did not work.
Joseph Bahout, director of the Issam Fares Institute at the American University of Beirut and former consultant to the French Ministry of Foreign Affairs, called the French initiative “a failure, not a fiasco”.
“It left too much leeway for the Lebanese to spoil it,” Bahout told Al Jazeera, explaining that Macron initially called for a government of independent technocrats, before going back to settle with a government with broad political consensus. .
“Not enough sticks, too many carrots,” Bahout said.
Many of Macron’s demands resonated with those of an angry population who attempted to overthrow Lebanon’s ruling class at the end of 2019.
“When he [Macron] sat down with the Lebanese leaders, he began to strip the conditions: “Early elections? We can keep that out of the way. International investigation into the port explosion? We will not insist on it, ”Bahout explained.
‘The system is dead’
Even at one of the most critical moments in its short history, the tiny and cash-strapped Lebanese rulers are ignoring the billions of dollars pledged by the international community in financial aid, while continuing their political feud.
But that may well be the nature of the country’s sectarian power-sharing system, which Bassel Salloukh, professor of political science at the Lebanese American University, says is “at an impasse.”
“It’s ‘zombie power sharing’; the system is dead but continues without the possibility of reform, ”Salloukh told Al Jazeera. “No one really wants to admit the collapse or the kind of policies you have to undertake to meet the demands of the IMF and the World Bank.”
It may just be political suicide for the ruling parties in Lebanon that have dominated the political and economic landscape over the past decades, which includes public sector recruitment and private contracts in exchange for ‘political loyalty.
“The sectarian system is not made to reform, only to reproduce,” said Salloukh. “Any decision to reform the economy would torpedo the economy that has been built over the past 30 years.”