Lebanon’s political future is wrapped up in Lebanon’s political past

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Almost exactly a year ago, Saad Hariri resigned as Prime Minister of Lebanon amid mass public protest. Now, a year later, Hariri has been named Lebanon’s Prime Minister once more, and has the immense task ahead of him of forming what will be his fourth government. Hariri calls himself the “natural candidate” for the job, as he sets out to reform the government and access international aid.

As Hariri returns, the country faces an even greater economic and political crisis than was present last October.

In October 2019, the protests stemmed from planned taxes on gasoline, tobacco and WhatsApp, and extended to calls for increased accountability in what was believed to be a corrupt government. As Hariri returns, the country faces an even greater economic and political crisis than was present last October.

The currency has depreciated by over 80 percent, state debts are crippling the country (thought to be partially down to government negligence), and over half the population is now living below the poverty line. This last August, a huge explosion at the port of Beirut led to over 200 deaths and thousands of injuries, costing Lebanon billions in damage and economic loss.

Since the blast, which saw the then Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his government’s resignation, there has already been a failed attempt by Mustapha Adib to form an emergency government. Lebanon is in dire need of foreign aid including a programme offered by the IMF, and discussed with Emmanuel Macron. This will only be possibly once a new government has been formed and reforms to governance have been enacted.

The appointment of Hariri as Prime Minister offers what may be the final opportunity to secure peace in Lebanon

The appointment of Hariri as Prime Minister offers what may be the final opportunity to secure peace in Lebanon. He won a slim majority of 65 out of 120 votes in parliament to secure his nomination, with 53 abstentions.

As a legacy of French colonial rule, the position of prime minister is required to go to a Sunni Muslim. The position of president must go to a Maronite Christian, and speaker of parliament to a Shia Muslim. Hariri was seen as one of very few candidates capable of stepping into the role of Prime Minister at this turbulent time, in an extremely politically divided country.

There is a possibility that Hariri will be able to bring about necessary reform, despite the opposition to his appointment from protesters who feel he is part of the powerful political class that has continually controlled and exploited Lebanon post-Civil War. He has set out with the intention of securing a deal with the IMF, as well as cooperating with France. Previous talks with the IMF have broken down among arguments among officials, bankers and political parties over the enormity of financial losses.

Hariri certainly holds the experience, having previously run three governments in Lebanon. There is a hope that Hariri will work to access foreign aid to support a crippling economy, with previous good relations with Paris, alongside negotiating across parties for reforms. He already has a degree of support, albeit in a very divided parliament. However, Hariri has not succeeded before, and there is a chance he will not succeed again. His resignation was brought on by a financial crisis he now claims to be capable of fixing. In 2018, Hariri failed to enact reforms that would have offered Lebanon $11 billion loan from countries including France and Britain.

Lebanon has not experienced a profound shift of government away from the ruling elite

Certainly, Lebanon has not experienced a profound shift of government away from the ruling elite, as many protesters called for with August’s resignation of government. However, for now, the country must take a chance on Hariri. If he can reform the government, and leave behind self-interest, there is a possibility Lebanon can begin to mend. Any aid will be useless if it falls into the wrong hands. There is a mammoth task ahead – with the person set to reform wrapped up in a class that needs reforming.

Image: World Economic Forum via Creative Commons

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