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.
Former PM Saad Hariri returned to power as new PM while govt began negotiations with Israel on disputed maritime border. Following PM-designate Adib’s resignation last month, former PM Saad Hariri – who stepped down following mass demonstrations last year – 8 Oct declared himself “the natural candidate” to form unity govt; despite opposition from major Christian parties, Hariri 22 Oct earned mandate to form new govt after receiving narrow parliamentary support in consultations held with President Michel Aoun, vowing to lead non-aligned technocratic cabinet and implement French-led reform initiative. In first non-security related talks in three decades, Lebanon and Israel began negotiations to delineate maritime border: Lebanese and Israeli delegations 2 Oct confirmed agreement on terms of negotiations; U.S.-mediated discussions 14 and 28 Oct took place at UN base in southern Naqoura town; Hizbollah 8 Oct declared negotiations over border did not amount to “reconciliation” or “normalisation” with Israel. Amid fraying security situation, rival clans in eastern Beqaa valley early Oct threatened confrontation with heavy machine guns and medium-range missiles; Lebanese Armed Forces 8 Oct deployed to Baalbek to prevent further escalation, arresting over dozen; clashes resumed late Oct. Meanwhile, local police reports publicised late Oct indicated boom in petty crime, robbery and murder in Lebanon in last year. Protesters outside French embassy in Beirut 30 Oct clashed with police, leaving three injured. U.S. Treasury 23 Oct imposed sanctions on senior Hizbollah members Nabil Qaouk and Hassan al-Baghdadi of party’s central council. Daily COVID-19 cases tripled since early Sept while foreign exchange reserves dwindled, threatening stocks of medical supplies.
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.