With deadlock continuing, Lebanon’s crisis is set for the long haul

“Hezbollah and its allies are not willing so far to relinquish their dominion over the political establishment.”- Lebanese analyst Amin Kammourieh
Sunday 17/11/2019
A 2010 file picture shows Lebanon’s then-Minister of Economy and Trade Mohammad Safadi. (Reuters)
Balloon test? A 2010 file picture shows Lebanon’s then-Minister of Economy and Trade Mohammad Safadi. (Reuters)

BEIRUT - The month-old demonstrations that brought Lebanon to a halt and toppled Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government have yet to deliver on protesters’ demands for an “emergency administration” of independent technocratic ministers capable of rescuing the country from its acute financial crisis.

Reports that a consensus was reached to nominate Mohammad Safadi, a former Finance minister, as prime minister fuelled the anger of protesters who gathered outside Safadi’s home.

“Reports about Safadi’s nomination could be a test balloon to see how it would be received. The people reacted with more protests. I don’t think that would work, unless the ruling class wants to confront the people,” said political analyst Amin Kammourieh.

“We are stuck in an impasse,” he said. “A government of technocrats will not be accepted by Hezbollah and its allies while a cabinet of politicians and technocrats will still face opposition in the street.”

Hariri, who resigned October 29 after unprecedented protests against ruling politicians blamed for rampant state corruption and an economic crisis, said he would only return as prime minister of a cabinet of non-partisan specialist ministers.

While the powerful Iran-backed Hezbollah and its allies, the Shia Amal Movement of parliament Speaker Nabih Berri and the Free Patriotic Movement of President Michel Aoun, wanted Hariri to return as prime minister, they insisted on a cabinet of both technocrats and politicians.

“They want him (Hariri) back because he represents a Sunni majority and has strong relations with the West, which they don’t want to lose,” Kammourieh said.

Kammourieh said a cabinet of independent technocrats would eliminate or weaken the hold of Hezbollah, which does not want to be seen as “if it has conceded to the international community, notably the West and the Americans,”  he said.

Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah has repeatedly insinuated that critics of Hezbollah’s political line were manipulating the protests and that the demonstrations had been exploited by international and regional powers against Hezbollah.

Protesters blocked roads and crammed city squares despite little sign of an imminent breakthrough. Lebanon appears to be in for a prolonged crisis.

The first fatality in the protests occurred November 12, when a Lebanese soldier shot a protester south of Beirut shortly after a live interview during which Aoun implicitly rejected the protesters’ demand for an independent cabinet.

A non-partisan cabinet of experts with a well-defined agenda, including early general elections, “is the only option to surmount the crisis,” said Sami Nader, director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Affairs.

“If the deadlock persists, Lebanon will be plunging into a more severe economic crisis. The World Bank has warned that 50% of the Lebanese will fall into poverty. That will lead to complete chaos and all-out civil disobedience.”

Neither side appears prepared to compromise and there is no political leadership or opposition party that could be an alternative to the ruling parties.

“Hezbollah and its allies are not willing so far to relinquish their dominion over the political establishment but, in the meantime, the country may collapse… We are still at square one.”

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