Lebanon Continues to Be Plagued by Conspiracies
Nothing exists in a vacuum in the politics of Lebanon, and trying to sort fact from fiction is daunting at best. After the Amal Movement and Hezbollah announced their intention to rejoin Cabinet meetings, which is necessary in order for the parliament to fully function, a range of responses have emerged, whether through rumor and conspiracies or legitimate news coverage.
Perhaps this move signals an Iranian plot to take further control over Lebanon in anticipation of the upcoming elections, as one story in Arab News puts it. Another rumor is that this is a tactic by the two parties to evade their culpability for dragging out the current stalemate in government. Others claim that it is an attempt to influence the P5+1 talks in Vienna that seek to limit Iran’s nuclear capability, or that this is a way for Amal and Hezbollah to curry favor with voters before the May elections.
Regardless of what their motives may actually be, one can rest assured that there are several at play. The stalemate they engineered undoubtedly incited pushback from their own political partners, threatening the chances for their Christian, pro-Syria allies to pick up seats from the flailing Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) of President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law, presidential aspirant, Gebran Bassil.
With this political tension in the background, the elections are now more important than ever, as there is a race against time to complete the national budget and secure parliament’s approval, which are not sure outcomes. The budget is the bloated cash cow of the many warlord-politicians who feed off of their allocations of public sector jobs and other benefits to their constituencies. That is why it is unsurprising that Ministries overseeing employment in Education, Health, Public Works, and Finance are plum cabinet positions. It is also why budget cuts, which are a necessary pre-condition for gaining IMF approval for a relief package, will clearly require steps that are verboten to the political elite, including cuts to government personnel and a formula for allocating losses among bank depositors.
And yet, without a national budget providing clear and measurable steps to reduce costs, and without banking sector reforms assigning losses to depositors, shareholders, and owners, there will be no IMF package, which even Amal and Hezbollah need in order to protect their interests. Thus, the duo had no choice but to come back to the negotiating table.
Opposition figures were quick to challenge Amal and Hezbollah’s sudden awakening to their national responsibilities. The original cause of the boycott was their opposition to the investigation over the Beirut Port explosion, which has yet to be completed. The trade-off that seems to be swirling around their latest move prioritized the re-emergence in the cabinet over their campaign of postponing the investigation.
As the Arab News article points out, “Phalanges Party MP Samy Gemayel said that Hezbollah and Amal ‘think they owe us a favor by ending the boycott.’ He added: “They paralyzed the country for a year to form the government they wanted and they boycotted it to prevent justice from prevailing in the ‘crime of the century.’ The Lebanese people are the ones paying the price. There’s no work, no electricity, no heating, no bread, and no medicine, accountability for humiliating people will be achieved through the elections.”
This is the hopeful theme heard most often in the street and in opposition statements: the elections are the opportunity to change the face of Lebanese politics by reducing the number of MPs in the Amal-Hezbollah alliance. This outcome would give the opposition the necessary votes to reduce corruption, limit the impact of the Amal-Hezbollah alliance on government policies, and secure a reform agenda to redirect Lebanon’s resources and policies toward reconstruction and stability, and away from sectarianism and corruption.
This hopeful scenario was enunciated by the Maronite Patriarch Bechara Al-Rahi in his sermon on January 16, when he commented on the latest development regarding Cabinet sessions. “The Cabinet disruption, the political escalation, the continued provocation, the use of justice to undermine the opponents, and the inversion of priorities reassure neither the Lebanese people nor Lebanon’s brothers and friends.”
There could be several outcomes of this latest move, but what is certain is that politics by rumor, irrespective of the source, is untenable for the survival and future credibility of Lebanon’s political system. The opposition must not back down in challenging the traditional political parties that have led Lebanon to a failed banking system, an enormous national deficit, a lack of legitimate currency, and its weakened regional relationships. The architecture of a new sovereign, legitimate, and inclusive Lebanon has yet to rise, and the May elections are a critical juncture for this rebirth.
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.