Are We Facing the Fading Future of the Future Movement?
No matter which sources you consult, the verdict is the same: Former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s decision to resign from politics and encourage his party, the Future Movement, to do the same is a blow to the Sunni community. His call for the party to boycott the May elections especially lays the groundwork for a counterproductive disruption of the status quo, and, inevitably, a net boost to the fortunes of Hezbollah. If it turns out that this decision will lead to a postponement of the elections, this move will be seen as a capitulation to the “same old, same old” oligarchy that has brought Lebanon to ruin.
And what a ruin it has become. According to a recently released study by Save the Children, children in Lebanon have lost several years of their education, nutrition, health services, and family stability due to the economic and political paralysis in the country on top of the COVID-19 crises. The study’s findings echo an earlier UNICEF reportthat revealed, “More and more families are being forced to resort to negative coping measures, including skipping meals, sending their children to work in often hazardous conditions, or marrying off their young daughters.”
Without going into more details, as both studies are publicly available, one can only hope that these patterns of societal catastrophe are a cause for some kind of moral awakening among Lebanon’s political elite, but their courage is less than apparent.. The economy continues to slide, the sectarian divisions continue to fester, and many qualified professionals are deciding to leave rather than bearing witness to the further debilitation of their livelihoods and communities.
The good news? At least discussions with the IMF have restarted, which is promising for the progress of a rescue package, but only if Parliament approves the draft national budget presented by the Ministry of Finance last week. If…
Since many sectarian leaders will be seeking their pound of flesh vis-à-vis their shares of government programs, the approval process may still be a while. Especially given Mr. Hariri’s recent withdrawal from politics, there seem to be plenty of reasons that can be used to justify postponing the elections, as the oligarchy bides its time striking deals that more deeply entrench the corruption that has become so commonplace in the country.
Even proposed solutions, after some scrutiny, are merely band-aids. For example, the passage of a national strategy for public procurement reform on January 20 was the subject of much commentary. Since this reform is one of the pre-conditions for an IMF package, it was heralded as a ‘stepping stone to reform’ by the Ministry of Finance. Upon closer reading, however, it seems that there are a few scabs that are in need of healing for the procurement reform to be realized. Although the Ministry promised that its implementation would occur in the summer of 2022, as Parliament passed a general procurement law in June 2021, there are gaps preventing the law’s implementation, which involve even more laws and codes to be enacted by the government. These obstacles have not yet been addressed.
For example, in May 2021, the World Bank noted that Lebanon has an outdated and fragmented procurement system and especially lacks the adequate technology to monitor procurement, exposing the public sector to high risks of corruption. While some of the issues were addressed in the two laws, they both lack enforcement mechanisms. In fact, a World Bank study indicated that Lebanon did not at all meet even 57% of the 210 specific criteria used in the assessment and partially met only another 34%. And, as reported by the Byblos Bank Economic Research Department, “it found major shortcomings in the system’s regulatory, institution and operational frameworks, and considered that there is considerable room for improving the accountability, integrity, and transparency criteria.”
What does the Future Movement and Saad Hariri’s resignation have to do with all of this? Consider the sectarian divisions of Lebanon’s government, which rules by coalition as is the case in most parliamentary systems. The absence of members affiliated with the Future Movement leaves Hezbollah and its allies with fewer obstacles to imposing their will on parliament. On the flip side, if in the coming election Future holds its seats as part of an opposition coalition, even the slightest shift of 10-15 seats would dull the edge that Hezbollah, the Amal Movement, and their allies have to block vital reform initiatives.
That is what is at stake. Even the Catholic Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi noted, “I wasn’t expecting it, neither did I expect that his decision would include al-Mustaqbal (The Future) Movement . . . if Hariri had his reasons, why did his decision include the entire movement?” So we are left with several questions: Will the party repudiate his call, rally around new leadership, and work to defeat the status quo? Nothing less than Lebanon’s territorial integrity and sovereignty could be at stake.
Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in these articles are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon, a non-profit, nonpartisan leadership organization of Lebanese-Americans.