Lebanon – Caught in a Snare of Its Own Making

Thursday, August 12, 2021
Opinion by Jean AbiNader

Are you still waiting to hear some positive political news about Lebanon? It’s clear that the humanitarian, medical, social, and economic news is all bad and getting worse. There are no updates yet from PM-designate Najib Mikati, tasked with producing the latest version of a government to be approved by his peers in the political oligarchy. Is no news good or bad?

The Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rai spoke out at his Sunday sermon. He challenged Hezbollah’s insistence on putting Lebanon at risk by engaging with the IDF in a battle of rocket fire into empty fields. Hezbollah’s exchanges with Israel are insults to the LAF, first by pressuring them to return the rockets and Hezbollah militia crew impounded by the Druze villagers of Chouaya; and then taking “retaliation” against Israel without warning the LAF of the potential firefight that could follow. Fortunately for Lebanon, Israel refused to take the bait.

The Patriarch’s alarm raised a storm of social media condemnation from Hezbollah’s supporters, causing President Aoun to defend the Patriarch and calling for calm for the sake of unity. The Patriarch shows no intention of backing down and he is speaking for a growing number of Lebanese who believe that Hezbollah’s disdain for the country’s sovereignty and stability should no longer be tolerated. However, in almost parallel statements from the protagonists, Hassan Nasrallah, the head of Hezbollah claimed that “We are not looking for war and we do not want to head towards war, but we are ready for it” if necessary, echoing similar comments by Israel this past week.

PM-designate Mikati is facing the same challenges as his predecessor in attempting to negotiate the composition of the cabinet in a new government. President Aoun is once again insisting on naming the Ministers of Justice and the Interior, who have responsibility for the judiciary and the elections. Whether or not Mikati will agree or fold up his portfolio and return to Tripoli is uncertain. Some analysts see this as a holding action by Aoun to prevent a new government from proceeding with the elections on time.

Elections on time, without interference, and with independent international observers have been a consistent demand by the international community as one of the conditions Lebanon must meet to obtain external funding. Saudi Arabia is the most recent country to say that assistance to Lebanon is contingent upon the selection of an empowered reform government that would meet IMF requirements, hold transparent and free elections, and adopt budgetary and financial discipline.

There really is no hiding from these realities but the political oligarchy is doing its best. What a horrific year since the Beirut Port blast, the economic collapse, Covid, and emigration of the professional and skilled workforce. The people are speaking, from October 17, 2019 until today; their entreaties are being ignored. How much longer can the catastrophe be avoided?

The views and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of the American Task Force on Lebanon.