For international donors, Lebanon is a country worth saving

Lebanon reaped $11.5 billion in pledges, loans, grants and donations during the conference.
Sunday 15/04/2018
French President Emmanuel Macron (C) delivers a speech during the international Cedre conference in Paris, on April 6.(AFP)
Vital pledges. French President Emmanuel Macron (C) delivers a speech during the international Cedre conference in Paris, on April 6. (AFP)

The Paris conference in support of Lebanon was by no means a normal, run-of-the-mill event. The conference has proven the extent to which the international community is willing to help Lebanon and its government and the Lebanese side at the conference conveyed the picture of a united Lebanon.

In the delegation accompanying Prime Minister Saad Hariri were ministers representing different political tendencies. Hariri had coordinated his steps with Lebanese President Michel Aoun and parliament Speaker Nabih Berri.

During the conference, Lebanon reaped $11.5 billion in pledges, loans, grants and donations. The funds will finance projects vital to Lebanese citizens such as water, electricity, roads, airport expansion and the environment.

The Lebanese delegation was pleasantly surprised with the international response. The loans received would not constitute an extra burden on Lebanon. The interest rate on the loans is capped at 1.5%. The repayment period is 25 years with a grace period that can go up to ten years.

The success of the conference took Lebanon by surprise and astonished Lebanon’s friends, such as France, which had anticipated the conference would not collect more than $8 billion. The World Bank’s participation to the tune of $4 billion convinced other donors that it was imperative to invest in Lebanon’s economic recovery and shore up its stability.

Hariri succeeded in making a strong case for supporting Lebanon. The World Bank simply subscribed to the Lebanese government’s vision for Lebanon and became convinced of the importance of all the projects presented for the country. After meeting with Hariri, World Bank CEO Kristalina Georgieva expressed an understanding of Lebanon’s situation. She said: “Lebanon has done its duty to the world. Today it is time for the world to do its duty to Lebanon.”

A Lebanese task force laid out a vision that seemingly convinced the international community and specialised agencies. That vision focused on structural reforms and put together a strategy for boosting productive sectors in Lebanon.

The goal was to ensure steady and real economic growth and create thousands of employment opportunities for young Lebanese. In addition, the public deficit had to be reduced from 9% to 6.5% in five years and, of course, the war on corruption must go on.

Support for Lebanon was not just economic but also political. French President Emmanuel Macron spoke of the regional and international implications of Lebanon’s crisis. He referred to Lebanon as an “asset” and an example for the region because of its diversity and plurality.

He reminded conference attendees that French troops, taking part in the multinational force, have been stationed in southern Lebanon for 40 years. Macron spoke of the necessity to “quickly” form a new government after the May 6 general elections.

The French president has shown a great deal of empathy and understanding for the dramas unfolding in the Middle East. He ended his moving speech with: “So, you understand, by helping Lebanon today, we want to help the entire region. I’m convinced of one thing; we are also helping ourselves a lot.”

Many countries went to Lebanon’s rescue. Saudi Arabia pledged $1 billion and Kuwait $500 million. Now the question is: Will the Lebanese help themselves? The keyword during the conference was “reforms” with all that it implies in terms of the war on corruption.

The private sector also stands to play a key role in improving and consolidating the country’s infrastructure. A total of $17 billion was earmarked for infrastructure projects during the next ten years.

However, a nagging question that could cast doubt on future projects in Lebanon is how institutions can be protected and allowed to carry out needed reforms while there are still illegitimate weapons belonging to Hezbollah in the country. As long as the government and its security institutions do not have a monopoly on weapons, all projects are at risk.

In a region suffering from an acute lack of democratic values, Lebanon’s saving graces are freedom and diversity. The country, however, has suffered and continues to suffer from foreign meddling. The Syrians and Palestinians tried to turn it into a battleground under their control and now the Iranians are trying to do the same.

Lebanon has no choice but to rally behind Hariri and his government, whose vision for Lebanon’s future convinced powerful donor countries and institutions that Lebanon is a country worth saving.