Lebanon’s government takes office amid uncertainty, opposition

While Arab countries and the West do not want Lebanon’s collapse, they also do not want to support a government closely linked to Hezbollah.
Saturday 01/02/2020
Lebanese new Prime Minister Hassan Diab (R) arrives to attend the first cabinet meeting of the newly formed government at the Baabda presidential palace, January 22. (dpa)
Lebanese new Prime Minister Hassan Diab (R) arrives to attend the first cabinet meeting of the newly formed government at the Baabda presidential palace, January 22. (dpa)

BEIRUT - Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab, whose cabinet took office January 23, is yet to submit its policy statement to parliament amid calls to deny his Hezbollah-backed administration a vote of confidence.

Stringent security measures were enforced around the parliament building, which was sealed off with concrete blocks, barbed wire and blast walls to deter anti-government protesters from reaching the building from adjacent Martyrs’ Square, a main protest hub in Beirut.

The deteriorating economic and financial situation was expected to top the government’s agenda but a cabinet stamped as a one-sided Hezbollah-led group will be unlikely to get badly needed Arab and international financial assistance.

“Challenges awaiting Diab’s administration are extremely difficult. They are rendered even more challenging because the government has no wide political cover and it is branded as pro-Hezbollah, even though it includes non-partisan and moderate figures,” said political analyst Johnny Mounayar.

“The future is blurred. Some people say the government won’t last long, while others, including Hezbollah, believe it will stay for a long while due to the extreme complexity of forming another administration.

“But, in order to help alleviate the acute financial crisis and shore up the economy, painful and unpopular fiscal measures will be unavoidable, a move that will further infuriate and alienate the people,” Mounayar said.

While the unprecedented street protests that have swept Lebanon since mid-October have tapered, opposition to Diab’s cabinet and public mistrust in its capacity to pull the country from its aggravating situation continue.

Washington and its Arab Gulf allies, which have long channelled funds into Lebanon's fragile economy, expressed alarm at the rising influence of Hezbollah and its partners.

The US administration “will not" provide any kind of assistance for Lebanon's new government because it considers it an “extension” of Hezbollah’s authority, local daily Nida Al Watan said quoting sources in Washington.

None of the Gulf Arab countries, especially Saudi Arabia and the United Arab Emirates, appears willing to step in to help heavily indebted Lebanon.

Mounayar said Lebanon is regarded as part of the confrontation of the United States and its Arab allies with Iran, now that it has officially fallen into the grip of the ruling majority led by Hezbollah.

“Only the European led by France might be willing to help contain the crisis through CEDRE conference on condition that the government introduces serious reforms, primarily in the electricity sector,” Mounayar said.

Foreign donors who pledged assistance for Lebanon at the CEDRE conference in Paris in 2018 have said any support depends on enacting long-delayed reforms.

While Arab countries and the West do not want Lebanon’s collapse, they also do not want to support a government closely linked to Hezbollah.

“No money will be coming for the time being. The future looks uncertain and I fear things would get worse,” Mounayar added.

Lebanon's crisis is rooted in decades of official corruption and waste. A hard currency squeeze has pushed up prices, hit the Lebanese pound and driven banks to impose capital controls.

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