Dylan Hasan – Lebanon
Despite international warnings and an economy on the verge of collapse, the crisis in Lebanon remains unresolved. Angry protests against the corrupt political elite continue, and the authorities are unable to form a new government after Saad Hariri’s resignation under pressure in October last year.
Hassan Diab, a 60-year-old professor at the American University of Beirut, was chosen as prime minister after Hariri’s resignation and headed a cabinet of 20 members, mostly specialists backed by political parties. But Diab’s formation of a new government failed to satisfy protesters.
A month after the resignation of Hassan Diab, president Aoun announced Mustapha Adib as Lebanon’s Prime Minister, who obtained the votes of the majority during binding parliamentary consultations held at the Baabda palace on 31 August. Days earlier, when his name came up as the main and only candidate, the Lebanese were infuriated for many reasons, not least because he is one of “them”.
The Lebanese have been living in the same scenario for months now. Every time a consensus is announced to form a Lebanese government, the chosen name apologises at the last moment, so the situation returns to square one. After Bahij Tabbara and Muhammad Safadi, it was the turn of the Lebanese businessman Samir Al-Khatib to apologise for forming the new government.
The problem is Hariri did not name anyone to succeed him from his sect, among the alternatives that were proposed to him. On the other hand, when Safadi and then al-Khatib were named, he made his supporters go out and reject them. Consequently, Hariri is “maneuvering” to return to the government, but on his terms.
The main condition for Saad Hariri is the formation of a technocratic government, which is rejected in particular by the Shiite duo, Hezbollah and the Amal movement, because it would mean that they lose the advantage they achieved in the last elections. Despite this, the “Shiite duo” itself wanted Hariri to remain the head of the government, because his return to his position would mean, for Hezbollah and its allies, a return to what he country was before the popular protests, that is, a stable government in which they have influence. The Lebanese scene is further complicated by dimensions that go beyond the borders of the country and are linked to regional countries that have great influence on, and at the same time contradictory interests in, Lebanon, especially Saudi Arabia and Iran.
Moreover, France has held an international conference about Lebanon. Its main goal is to push the country towards rapid formation of a government to put an end to the political crisis and carry out economic reforms.
France is the most western country interested in keeping Lebanon stable because it is the only country in the Middle East in which France still has influence. It has lost its influence in Iraq, and lost part of its influence in Libya, and therefore France is very concerned that the Lebanese reach a solution that ends the escalating crisis.
Despite the heightened optimism about resolving to form the new Lebanese government, with Saad Hariri assigning the task after its formation faltered for three months, this optimism began to decline with the increasing obstacles around the distribution of the main portfolios and the issue of quotas, as if no revolution had broken out.
According to sources, these obstacles are represented in the Free Patriotic Movement (President Aoun’s party) seeking to enlarge the size of the government, to obtain a number of ministries to be secured by the third bloc, the participation of “Hezbollah” in the government, and giving a portfolio to the Druze community.
What are the obstacles facing the formation of the Lebanese government?
– The declarations made by the political blocs towards forming the government are inconsistent with their actual position, which insist on certain conditions that obstruct the formation process.
– The struggle for portfolios: the head of the Free Patriotic Movement, Gebran Bassil, who has been subjected to harsh US sanctions due to corruption, clings to the Energy and Foreign Ministries, and the Shiite duo, Amal Movement and Hezbollah, insist on representing the Ministry of Finance. Their stance has isolated them from the rest of the country’s political class, as well as Hezbollah’s Christian ally, President Michelle Aoun.
– Government size: Hezbollah insists on forming a techno-political government of 14 ministers instead of 24, with two-thirds of the government being technocrats and the other third being political parties. Bassil supports the formation of a government of 24 ministers, with political parties being called 8 ministries, while President Michel Aoun wants to form a government that is not miniature and requires approval of the chosen names.
For the time being, and once again, former Lebanese Prime Minister Saad Hariri has been tasked with forming his fourth government, winning the majority vote in parliament only a year after his resignation and mass protests against him and all corrupt politicians. Hariri’s dramatic return was enabled by the votes of 65 MPs, including his own Future Movement, the Shia Amal Movement, the Druze Progressive Movement, and the Syrian Socialist Nationalist party. Abstentions, numbering 53, included the Lebanese Forces, former Hariri allies. The Iran-backed Hezbollah party also did not vote for Hariri, though they have been among the most enthusiastic for his return since his resignation on 29 October last year.
Hariri of course made his promises to form a government of “specialists” and non-partisans as soon as possible, in a short address after his re-designation. So will the dream of the Lebanese come true? Will the government be formed this time or is it going to fail once again? Are the Lebanese back to zero? Has the revolution changed a thing?