Lebanese cabinet formed but salvation awaits

Hezbollah is dragging the Lebanese state deeper and inviting more sanctions that would affect all sectors that depend on US aid.
Saturday 02/02/2019
hief winner. Lebanon's Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil speaks during a news conference in Beirut. (Reuters) 
hief winner. Lebanon's Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil speaks during a news conference in Beirut. (Reuters) 

Politics is very similar to playing cards, with every player dealt cards -- or political opportunities -- and the outcome resting on every participant’s ability to calculate risks and make sound decisions that ensure the game goes on.

These simple regulatory perimeters are nowhere to be found in the Lebanese political scene.

The country’s decrepit political establishment faltered in forming a cabinet that would -- hypothetically -- steer the country from a looming financial collapse whose marks are already visible.

Since elections last May, Lebanese Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri failed repeatedly to sway his allies and rivals to accept an assortment of cabinet lineups, making the likelihood of its birth close to impossible.

The pessimism that has dominated the cabinet formation process shifted with Hariri and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, Lebanese President Michel Aoun’s son-in-law and political heir, declaring a make-or-break week for the government.

Accordingly, the evening of January 31 saw Hariri declare the formation of a government, one he declared was bent on economic reform that will ensure that Lebanon receives the pledges of last April’s CEDRE conference.

Much of the inability of Hariri to form his cabinet stemmed from Bassil’s unwavering insistence on having 11 portfolios in the 30-member cabinet, giving him a de facto veto right over any crucial decision that constitutionally requires a two-thirds majority vote.

No sooner had Bassil supposedly accepted to reconsider his request, Hariri was hit by another impossible demand from Hezbollah. It insisted that he grant a makeshift coalition of six pro-Syrian Lebanese parliamentarians a cabinet position, which Hariri unequivocally rejected.

Hariri's refusal faded after Bassil suggested that this “Sunni” minister be tallied as part of Aoun’s quota and thus the delicate balance of power would remain unaffected. This formula, coupled with a minor reshuffling of a few cabinet portfolios, led to the miraculous birth of what seemed to be an unlikely cabinet, one that all sides involved, despite reservations, state optimism about.

However, a re-examination of the arduous formation process warns of the troubles that await Hariri, whose compromises and mediocre results at the polls virtually made him hostage to Hezbollah and their main Christian allies.

Bassil, the chief winner from Hariri’s concessions, wants to use this government to pave the way towards replacing his father-in-law as the next president.

To achieve his childhood dream, Bassil will have to cooperate fully with both Hezbollah and the Assad regime in Syria, which see Lebanon and its hollow state as a vehicle to bypass the US sanctions and to serve their regional aspirations.

Having clinched the Public Health Ministry, Hezbollah is dragging the Lebanese state deeper and inviting more sanctions that would affect all sectors that depend on US aid.

The fact that Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah’s personal physician is the new minister of health automatically deprives Lebanon of millions of dollars that subsidises the Lebanese government’s medication programme.

If this was not enough, Hezbollah, forcing its will on Hariri, who eventually appointed a pro-Syrian Sunni minister, will further convince Arab Gulf countries that Iran’s grip over Lebanon and its government is beyond question and, above all that, any financial assistance to the state would end up only advancing Iran and Hezbollah, which are in dire need of funds and thus have turned towards pillaging what little remains of Lebanon’s resources.

Perhaps the most disheartening aspect of the farce of the government's formation is that Hariri’s imminent cabinet is a rehashing of previous cabinets that not only failed to implement structural reform but maliciously disregarded all elements of transparency and accountability when dispensing public funds and awarding government contracts.

This fathomless appetite for corruption enjoyed by nearly all factions of government and the primacy of Hezbollah over the country’s political system confirm that the Lebanese economic and political salvation will have to wait for better times.