Lebanon’s National Dialogue showcases disunity
BEIRUT –The Lebanese Forces Party joined in boycotting a dialogue meeting in Baabda, while the Druze leader of the Progressive Socialist Party Walid Jumblatt chose to hold the stick in the middle and dispatch his son, MP Taymor Jumblatt, to the conference.
The organisers of the meeting called for by Lebanese President Michel Aoun say it is intended to protect the country from discord and unite ranks to help confront the country’s dire financial crisis. However, some political forces that are boycotting the gathering argue it is simply a brainstorming session to save the ruling class, especially the Iran-backed Hezbollah group.
Aoun’s call to hold the national conference led to vetting the country’s political scene, repeating a scenario that happened following the assassination of former Lebanese Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005.
During that period, Lebanon’s political class emerged as divided into two camps: Those supporting the withdrawal of Syrian forces and those backing the Syria-Iran axis.
With current political tensions high, there are signs that the March 14 Coalition, formed after Hariri’s assassination, could be revived, but this time for different reasons and with a different rationale.
This seems especially likely as opposition parties remain convinced that there must be deep reform in order to prevent the collapse of the country’s government and economy at a time when international pressure is piling up on Lebanon to implement such reforms and take major political steps, including the ouster of Hezbollah from power.
Speaking in Washington on Wednesday, US Secretary of State Mike Pompeo said real reforms are necessary before support is extended to the Lebanese government. He added that it must be a government that is not “beholden to Hezbollah.”
Hezbollah is on the US sanctions list and Washington considers it one of Iran’s most powerful proxies in the region.
“When that comes, when the government demonstrates, whoever that is, demonstrates their willingness and capacity to do that I think that not only the United States, but the whole world will come in to assist the Lebanese government get its economy back on its feet,” Pompeo said.
Iran-backed Hezbollah, designated by the US and other Arab and Western countries as a terrorist organisation, has strengthened its political position in recent years, taking root at the heart of Lebanon’s power structure.
This is one of the main reasons that the international community, especially the United States, is reluctant to provide financial support to Lebanon.
Speaking to American broadcaster CNBC on Wednesday, UAE Minister of State for Foreign Affairs Anwar Gargash said that Lebanon’s “economic meltdown is very worrying” but that the UAE would only consider offering financial support in concert with other states.
Gulf states have long channelled funds into Lebanon’s fragile economy but, like Washington, they are alarmed by the rising influence of Hezbollah, a powerful proxy of their arch-rival Iran.
“If we see some of our friends, major powers interested in Lebanon, working in a plan, we will consider that. But up to now, what we are really seeing here, is a deterioration of Lebanon’s Arab relations and Gulf relations over the past 10 years. Lebanon is partly paying the price for that right now,” Gargash said.
“We’ve seen an accumulation of problems in Lebanon and we’ve seen also a dictation of the political discourse by Hezbollah which really has an army within the state,” he added.
The international community’s reluctance to come to the rescue of Lebanon raised alarms among many opposition leaders, with the head of the Lebanese Forces party Samir Geagea calling for real action and genuine reform while snubbing the Baabda conference.
“We will not participate in a meeting whose aim is to throw dust in our eyes,” Geagea said Wednesday, adding that “Lebanese people are at odds with the authorities.”
“What’s required are decisions, not meetings, and moving the government toward making its first reform,” Geagea said.
“The problem is not with the government but with the ruling class that imposes upon the government whatever it wants it to do,” he added, noting that “as long as this reality exists, there will be no state in Lebanon.”
On the relationship with the former prime minister and leader of the Future Movement Saad Hariri, the leader of the Forces Party said, “contacts are constantly taking place.”