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Lebanon: Governance in Difficult Times

Lebanon: Governance in Difficult Times

Friday, 19 October, 2018 - 05:30
Few hours separated the optimism expressed by Lebanon’s Prime Minister-designate Saad Hariri, and the frustrated reply that came from Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, head of the Free Patriotic Movement (founded by current President General Michel Aoun).

Given his incessant talk about the economy, Hariri seems to be obsessed with the worrying economic situation, which is why he wants to form a government that receives and manages the promised and much-needed international aid, in the hope that such it saves Lebanon from a more than probable economic collapse.

Across the political arena, the priorities of the Foreign Minister – who is also Aoun’s son-in-law – look totally different. In intentionally sabotaging Hariri’s ‘optimism’, as expressed in an eagerly followed TV interview, Bassil seems keen to build ‘another Lebanon’. A Lebanon based on the advantage of armed hegemony, and on the ruins of “The Taif Accord.”

Bassil now believes that the new “balance of power” imposed by Hezbollah’s military might since 2008, and enhanced by the new electoral law based on PR (proportional representation) – under which the latest general elections were conducted – has effectively nullified “The Taif Accord”. Thus, Bassil is tacitly working to deprive the Prime Minister of almost all extrapowers given to the post – the highest reserved to Sunni Muslims under the Accord – and bring Lebanon back under a ‘strong’ Christian President, albeit empowered by Hezbollah’s arms.

In the meantime, the Lebanese continue to await the birth of their new cabinet around five months after the general elections in early May. Many would rather be optimistic, even with few encouraging signs that the future will be better than present time. One of those is none other than PM Hariri who is betting on solving the complex political crises with injections of economic boosts. Enjoying the much hoped for economic well-being may, hence, become a common denominator that brings the Lebanese together.

In fact, although Lebanon’s problems are seen as being too complex and too deep to allow for magical panacea made up of solicited loans, investment and financial aid; Lebanon’s history, since its independence in 1943, has witnessed periods when money helped in resolving political and sectarian crises, without eliminating them.

Among these periods was President Camille Chamoun’s term (1952-1958), when military coups, and the ensuing mass nationalization of private businesses in neighboring countries – including those owned by foreign nationals – led to an exodus of capital and investments towards Lebanon. The country, then was a safe haven thanks to its lasses-faire economy, banking secrecy and active services sector (tourism, education, hospitals, etc.).

The generation that remembers this boom period says Lebanon was fairly stable despite acute regional struggles fueled by “The Cold War” polarization and its pacts – among which was “The Baghdad pact” – created by the “Policy of Containment”, as well as the escalating Arab-Israeli conflict. However, the “1958 Revolt” that was backed by President Gamal Abdel Nasser of Egypt, and prevented Chamoun from securing a second term in office, ended relatively fast and with no high costs. It was followed by the Army Chief General Fouad Chehab taking over. He was a wise man who enjoyed wide international support, kept the unity of the army, and launched an institutional reform operation that allowed the Lebanese a good period to reap the benefits of economic wellbeing against the backdrop of regional turmoil.

The second experiment came with Prime minister Rafik Hariri, near the end of “The Lebanese War” (1975-1990). Again, injecting money and investing in the Lebanese manpower as well as infrastructure projects, were crucial in making the Lebanese discover the absurd suicidal circle they were in, after paying the heavy price of foreign interventions, most of which were welcome, if not invited, by their local leaders and parties. Indeed, most Lebanese people found a “common” interest in peacefully coexisting and in giving entente a chance, although some opposed the settlement that ended the war, and became known as “The Taif Accord” of 1989, signed in the Saudi city of Taif.

It is important to mention here that the “Accords”, as the wise and well-intentioned Lebanese realize, were not necessarily the final and magic cure. Actually, the roots of political conflicts both within the country and in its neighboring entities – as we have seen in Syria and Iraq – are centuries old. So it would be impossible to simply wipe out political cultures, myths, and old grudges, and claim that brotherly hugs between sage and visionary leaders are enough.

Still, “The Taif Accord” provided the necessary roadmap to move forward to the desired solution. It was certainly necessary but by no means sufficient, since there was a need for it to be solidified and built on.

On the other hand, there were regional players, led by the Assad regime in Syria and the Tehran regime in Iran, that claimed to accept the Accord, while they were working to undermine it. These two players had no interest in real entente and solid peace that would push them out of Lebanon, thus cutting off the corridor of Iranian influence to the Mediterranean as this plan became clear after 2011. So Damascus and Tehran, along with a group of Lebanese who continue to dream of Lebanon as a “Christian national home”, were hell-bent on sabotaging “The Taif Accord” at any price.

Following the assassination of President Rene Moawad (on November 22, 1989), who was the man agreed on in Taif, came the second step in 1992. The Syrian regime, which was in control of Lebanon, ignored then the widespread Christian boycott of the first post-Taif general agreement. It later, strived to emasculate the Accord through:

1-    Turning what became known as “The Syrio-Lebanese Security Apparatus” into the real powerhouse in the country, along the lines of how pre-2011 Syria’s security agencies turned into a “police state”.
2-    Becoming the “nanny” of Iran’s greatest investment in the region, i.e., Hezbollah!

The assassination of Rafik Hariri, on February 14, 2005, was an inseparable part of the strategy of killing off “The Taif Accord”, and what is now taking place is an attempt to confirm Iran’s hegemony over Lebanon albeit behind a Christian façade.

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