What’s Next for Lebanon?

The political crisis crippling Lebanon shows no sign of ending as the country’s politicians failed to form a new government before the deadline agreed with French President Emmanuel Macron.

Failure to Agree on a New Cabinet

Lebanese President Michel Aoun met the leaders of parliamentary groups at Baabda Palace on Monday and Tuesday, but they failed to agree on a new cabinet that could have been led by Prime Minister-designate Mustapha Adib.

Macron has invested considerable political capital into Lebanon’s political process since the Beirut explosion last month. During his last visit to the nation he received reassurances that politicians would form a government within 15 days of his trip.

Government May be Formed by End of the Week

However, Nadim El Kak, a researcher at the Lebanese Center for Policy Studies, told The National that the political class are “engaging in sectarian battles,” even though some in the Lebanese media believe that a government could be formed by the end of the week.

The biggest obstacle to forming a new government is that several parties which control the interior, foreign and defense ministries fear that a reshuffle threatens the hold that they have over these institutions.

Parliamentary Speaker and Hezbollah ally Nabih Berri insists that a Shi’ite figure be given charge of the finance ministry. Macron failed to persuade him to change his mind.

If Lebanon has any hope of reforming its political system following the Beirut explosion, then the nation’s elites have no choice but to allow for a rotation between parties in Lebanon’s key political institutions. It is not fair that a certain group has an exclusive right to any ministerial portfolio.

Fires Continue to Shatter Lebanon’s Psyche

Aoun’s son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, who leads the President’s party, accused internal and external forces of thwarting the formation of a new government.

As the political elites continue to frustrate attempts to initiate radical reforms in Lebanon, fires continue to shatter the nation’s psyche. A fire broke out at a shopping center being built in Beirut, marking the third blaze in a week in a city still reeling from the devastating explosion in August.

The shopping center was designed by British-Iraqi architect Zaha Hadid.

Although the disaster is still being investigated, the fire was reportedly triggered by a detonation of 2,750 tons of ammonium nitrate that had been stored unsafely.

A Government Must be Formed Quickly

That is why Lebanon’s politicians must form a government quickly. Jogger Joe Sayegh told Reuters that the latest fires signify that if the country’s new administration is formed by the same politicians then “nothing will change.” This is just one example of how citizens’ confidence in their politicians has been damaged by recent events.

Whoever leads Lebanon’s new government has a daunting task ahead of them. Macron wants the country’s elites to initiate a reformed electoral law and to hold parliamentary elections by September 2021. Given the current state of affairs in Lebanon, this might be easier said than done.

Iran will be monitoring developments in Lebanon carefully as they are one of the main sponsors of Hezbollah, a Shi’ite Islamist party which has influence over the Lebanese Government. The Washington Institute discovered that the Iranian Government provides the terrorist group with $100 million per year. The Iranian Government has already spoken out against Macron’s interventions, and they may attempt to block the French President’s planned reforms.

Time is Running Out for Lebanon’s Political Elites

The Council on Foreign Relations’ Amir Asmar suggests the Lebanese Armed Forces (LAF) were instrumental in defeating ISIS and it is one of the few institutions that Lebanon’s citizens have a positive view of. They can act as a restraining force against Hezbollah and Macron would be wise to engage with them if he is serious about reform.

With Lebanon’s currency losing 80 percent of its value against the dollar and the economy likely to contract by 24 percent this year, it is imperative that a new government tackles the ongoing economic crisis the nation faces. Continuous delays to the forming of a new administration means that the tough decisions which are necessary to spark an economic recovery are not being made.

It is clear that the next stages for Lebanon’s political elites are to form a new cabinet, initiate reform and rebuild the economy. Time will tell if this is too ambitious for them to accomplish or not.