Monday, March 30, 2020

It is a lesson in Lebanese politics to track Hezbollah’s multiple layers of tactics and strategies focused on one goal – preventing the Lebanese state from undertaking actions that challenge its interests. Among the sectarian groups in Lebanon, Hezbollah stands out as the most consistent and rigorous adherent of maintaining its influence over the others whether by rallying its allies in Parliament to control legislation and government initiatives, bringing its thugs out into the streets to combat demonstrators, or simply reminding opponents of the fate of previous leaders perceived as obstacles to their leadership.

While the list of its contributions are often referenced by its non-Shia supporters, for example, protecting Christian villages in Syria against ISIS, providing basic services to...

Monday, March 16, 2020

Following her meetings with Lebanon’s current top leadership, newly appointed US Ambassador Dorothy Shea issued a statement that emphasized that “The people of Lebanon have rightly called for reform, an end to corruption, and the imposition of effective policies necessary to extricate Lebanon from its an unprecedented economic crisis. The United States continues to back the protesters’ legitimate demands for economic opportunity, accountability, and transparency.  Only by meeting those demands can Lebanon initiate the difficult process of restoring international confidence.”

She went on to say that “The United States is proud to have been a committed partner to Lebanon since the 1800s.  We have deep ties in education, in business, in security, and in people-to-people and family relatio...

Monday, March 9, 2020

In these times of great confusion and bewilderment, I felt compelled after much reflection to get clarity over the financial conundrum we are facing, which is characterized by deliberate obscurantism to say the least. I also wanted to reflect on some constructive ideas about this very difficult subject.

By nature I am compelled to seek the crux of a problem and think only in terms of solutions. I also wanted to understand how this affliction came about.

I tend to look at situations in a holistic manner beyond the outward manifestations of symptoms, which in this case are the bankruptcy of the financial institutions and the failed state of Lebanon.

The deeper underlying cause can be summed up by saying that extreme negligence, recklessness and self-serving narrow public policies driven by priv...

Tuesday, March 3, 2020

It is increasingly difficult to ignore the factors forcing the Lebanese deeper into poverty. For example, one unintended impact of US policy towards Iran is that while it effectively squeezes the economic performance of the regime, it also reduces resources for the Lebanese Shia community. At a recent session sponsored by Al-Monitor, Brian Hook, the US special representative for Iran and senior policy adviser to Secretary of State Mike Pompeo, noted that the maximum pressure campaign being coordinated by the US has had a significant impact on Iran and its ability to support its proxy militias, including Hezbollah.

While on the macro level, this may be true, it is also clear that Iran, despite the expansion of US sanctions on individuals as well as entities, continues to provide its constitu...

Friday, February 21, 2020

It is intriguing to compare what is going on in Lebanon with other states in various stages of unrest in the Arab world. While they may not be precisely comparable or offer any solutions, they do raise a concern about how and if Arab countries can evolve into a form of democratic states, and even if that is desirable. One hears from time to time the comment that the Arabs are better off when there are strong personalities leading the country. But that facile opinion is not supported by people fed up with the corruption, economic malaise, weak governance, and overzealous role of security forces in autocratic Arab countries. What seems to be missing is a way forward, a model that can serve as a roadmap for inclusive, comprehensive, fair, and equitable change over a tolerable period of time.

M...

Friday, February 14, 2020

Dorothy Shea, a career member of the US Senior Foreign Service, whose last post was as Deputy Chief of Mission in Cairo, has been confirmed as the new US Ambassador to Lebanon. She is no stranger to the region. She previously served in the Consulate General in Jerusalem, in US Embassies in Tunis and Tel Aviv, and several posts in the State Department and National Security Council with a direct remit over issues in Lebanon. Ambassador Shea earned a B.A. from the University of Virginia, M.S. from Georgetown University, and M.S. from the National War College. She speaks French and Arabic.

It is no understatement to say that she takes up the reins of the embassy in Beirut at a particularly critical time in US-Lebanon relations and there has been a lot of anticipation and speculation about the m...

Friday, January 31, 2020

Now that the new Diab-led government has been installed and preliminary approval given to the previously drafted national budget that has some reform features, there are contending scenarios for what may happen next. There is a consensus on the need to prioritize economic issues, especially those affecting the overall fiscal integrity of the country and the resulting decline in purchasing power for the majority of the Lebanese people. However, there are sharp divisions about what is possible in the coming months or even before the 2022 elections.

Some believe that this government will fail as the sectarian leaders who came together under Hezbollah’s prodding to assemble the new council of ministers will not allow critical reforms and austerity measures that would strike at their ability to...

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

Analyzing the protests in Algeria, Iraq, and Lebanon to uncover similarities useful for finding possible  beneficial results such as greater power-sharing, more transparency in public transactions, a stronger commitment to rule of law, and concrete steps to promote inclusive economic prosperity leaves one dispirited. Sometimes analysis is just that – we can see what’s going on, we can describe the dynamics, draw conclusions, and outline scenarios – but offer few remedies as analysts seldom have the agency to effect or even influence change.

This is the hard lesson in all three cases, and most extremely in Lebanon, which, like the others, has come through a civil war, is riven with identity politics that frame negotiating positions, and has been unable to articulate a way forward despite the...

Monday, January 13, 2020