Politics at the core of Lebanon's existential crisis

This government is the expression of Hezbollah’s choice, the hidden power behind the power, to have a government representing the ruling coalition under its control.
Monday 24/02/2020
A man walks past a closed bank office in Beirut, Lebanon November 12, 2019. (Reuters)
A man walks past a closed bank office in Beirut, Lebanon November 12, 2019. (Reuters)

With the government of Prime Minister Hassan Diab in place, Lebanon embarks on a new chapter of its financial, economic and monetary collapse.

This government was formed contrary to the will of the Lebanese people, who demanded one non-partisan and independent with qualified individuals from outside the ruling class.

This government is the expression of Hezbollah’s choice, the hidden power behind the power, to have a government representing the ruling coalition under its control. Hezbollah and its cronies are not willing to relinquish their partisan gains inside the state machine, even if that leads to the country’s total collapse.

Neither the international community nor the Gulf states and the Arab countries have shown any enthusiasm for the new Lebanese government or any willingness to go to Lebanon’s rescue considering the government is devoted to the Tehran axis and, to add insult to ruin, is managed by Hezbollah.

Although Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah rejected the description of the new government as a “Hezbollah government,” neither the Lebanese scene nor the world shares Hezbollah’s convictions. The shared awareness is that it would be impossible to form a government in Lebanon that does not have Hezbollah’s blessings or does not commit itself to following policies that the party drew up a decade ago and that were consecrated with the election of Michel Aoun as president in 2016.

Nasrallah says politics and economics can be separated. He said not to place the political dispute in the financial and economic crisis, asking Lebanese politicians to give the government a chance. He was brushing aside one of the most prominent factors behind the crisis -- transforming Lebanon into a springboard for security and political interventions in various Arab countries.

Hezbollah is the spearhead of a confrontation with Arab parties who had long been assisting Lebanon politically, economically and financially but Hezbollah’s policies and its military and security choices turned Lebanon into a pariah state and a source of danger for many countries. Worse, those choices cost Lebanon its attractiveness to Arab and foreign investors.

Hezbollah should not be surprised because it did everything to undermine the authority of the state and promote that of armed militias. The state is a mere puppet in the hands of Hezbollah and this gives Tehran full control over Lebanon’s policies and its international relations.

It would be misleading to talk about other causes behind Lebanon’s economic crisis without acknowledging this pivotal political factor that caused and deepened the problem. Politics is at the heart of the crisis.

The internal political dimension of the crisis can be traced to the system of foreign oversight and covert control of all political decisions in Lebanon. At the core of this system is Hezbollah’s plan to conduct its relations with all other political forces in the country based on their complete loyalty and submission to its strategic choices.

In exchange for this loyalty, Hezbollah would have access to all advantages and benefits from the state’s funds and public treasury. Hezbollah has never even once considered integrity and rectitude as a condition for striking alliances and building political relations with various parties in Lebanon.

There is an unspoken and essential condition in Hezbollah’s coalitions or positive relations with any political party and that is their relationship must be at the expense of the authority of the state, including the constitution and the law.

This is how Hezbollah built its alliance with the Free Patriotic Movement and how it managed deals with Saad Hariri, Walid Jumblatt and Samir Geagea. Hezbollah’s "sine qua non condition" is that it remains outside and above state authority, either in the name of the resistance or in the name of “avoiding conflict,” a subliminal expression the party uses to stop protests about it being outside the authority of the state.

What that phrase means is that what Hezbollah is doing is, in theory, contrary to the country’s constitution and the law but should not be subject to discussion or internal objection.

Those policies marginalised and weakened the state and made Lebanon lose its attractiveness to investors. They angered Arab countries and caused many of Lebanon’s traditional friends to turn their backs on its crises.

Inside Lebanon, they opened the gates of corruption and more destruction inside the state machine, all to weaken the state and society. The result of Hezbollah’s relentless programme is Lebanon’s profound crisis, which is one of political choices.

Instead of choosing Lebanon and the Lebanese, Hezbollah opted to join the Iranian axis externally and the axis of corrupt power internally. The latter is the best means to gain control of the state and society.

This is not surprising for anyone who knows the nature of Iranian ideology, which cannot exist outside the framework of its foundations. The first foundation is weakening the state, then comes the creation or exploitation of social divisions and societal rifts. Iran couldn’t exercise its influence anywhere in the world were it not for the existence of weak state authority within a social context of sectarian or religious or ethnic divisions. These characteristics form a suitable recipe for the economic and social breakdown in those countries.

It would be mindboggling if it turns out that Hezbollah is expecting the Arabs and the West to help Lebanon out of its crisis. Worse, Nasrallah had the gall to accuse some Lebanese of inciting the general public against the government it formed with its allies.

It is tragicomic that Nasrallah can be arrogant enough to think that it would not cross the minds of certain foreign parties, such as Saudi Arabia, the United States or the European Union, that he is the author and director of the current government. He prefers to say they found out about the charade through disgruntled Lebanese sources. Such childish concealment behaviour will be of no help to Diab’s government.

Diab’s government will not be able to curb the country’s race towards collapse, let alone save it from its crisis, because it lacks the minimum requirements for achieving that, including independence and non-partisanship. The members of the cabinet were chosen by Hezbollah and its allies. They will work with teams belonging to those forces and will abide by instructions from those who appointed them.

The second element lacking in Diab’s government is qualification. Examining the CVs of the appointed ministers, it is obvious they are not qualified for their portfolios. None of them stands out and they have no lustre.

The third element is courage to take decisions. Perhaps it is the case that most of the appointed ministers accepted to function as representatives of those who appointed them. None of these new ministers has issued a statement or taken a position that would give the impression that he is independent, bold and qualified.

Diab’s government will not give the Lebanese what they want from a government because Lebanon is caught in a bottleneck, one created by Iran’s policies and choices for Lebanon. It doesn’t seem that Lebanon can save itself without first undoing the reasons for its crisis. It is the fault of the power-sharing model that was blessed by Iran and adopted by the Doha Agreement of 2008 and consecrated in the presidential settlement of 2016. That model has been proven, and tragically so, unsustainable and must go.

The uprising throughout the country is an affirmation that the system of quotas and foreign guardianship that governs Lebanon is no longer acceptable to the Lebanese and must be replaced in order for Lebanon to survive.