International community pressures Lebanon to accept new road map
The deadlock between Lebanon’s political class and the protesters on the streets has continued for almost two months now. Meanwhile, the members of the International Support Group (ISG) for Lebanon gathered in Paris on Wednesday to pressure the Lebanese politicians to urgently form a “credible and efficient government” to take the necessary decisions to tackle the country’s deteriorating economic and social situation.
France had insisted on this gathering, but some countries dragged their feet before agreeing to attend. Some thought it better to wait for the formation of a new government, but French President Emmanuel Macron and Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian insisted on holding the meeting to remind the Lebanese political class of the reforms that were promised but never implemented following the Cedre Conference of April 2018, which attempted to save the Lebanese economy.
Macron, who is reported by his diplomatic team to be closely following the situation in Lebanon, is convinced that the country’s stability and security is important to the region and that an economic collapse is still avoidable. He knows that the region does not need an additional disastrous development. France has also been very close to Lebanon traditionally and historically.
The deadlock in Lebanon — which has seen the population denied its basic needs, from electricity to employment and sanitation — prompted the French to put pressure on the authorities to quickly form a government that will adopt the macroeconomic and social measures needed to get financial help and support from the international community.
Macron is convinced that the country’s stability and security is important to the region.
The Paris meeting was attended by senior officials from the foreign ministries of the five permanent members of the UN Security Council (France, the US, Britain, Russia and China), plus Italy, Germany, Egypt, Saudi Arabia, the UAE, Kuwait and Lebanon. They drew up a new road map for the next Lebanese government to implement in order for it to respond to the expectations of the Lebanese people and receive financial support from the international community.
The Paris meeting acknowledged that Lebanon is facing a crisis that puts the country at risk of “a chaotic unwinding of its economy and of increased instability.” It considered that there was an urgent need to adopt a credible and comprehensive policy of economic reforms to restore financial stability and address the longstanding structural deficiencies in the model of the Lebanese economy.
The ISG’s final communique stressed the importance of these measures in terms of responding to the aspirations of the Lebanese protesters, who have been on the streets since Oct. 17. The meeting considered that preserving Lebanon’s stability, unity, security, sovereignty and political independence requires the swift formation of a government that will be committed to dissociating the country from regional tensions. Among the measures in the road map for the new government was the demand for a credible 2020 budget, showing a significantly reduced deficit, to be adopted within a few weeks, including social safety nets to preserve the vulnerable population.
The meeting also urged the authorities to tackle corruption. The road map included the adoption of an anti-corruption law and judicial reform. It also reconfirmed the decisions of the Cedre Conference as still being valid.
While the international community was meeting in Paris, Lebanese President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law and Foreign Minister Gebran Bassil, together with Hezbollah, were taking their time to agree on a new date for the repeatedly postponed parliamentary consultations on naming a new prime minister following Saad Hariri’s resignation. Samir Khatib, a Sunni businessman who was a leading candidate for the role, withdrew after meeting Grand Mufti Sheikh Abdellatif Deryan, who told him he is still backing Hariri.
Hariri seems to be engaged in a power game with Aoun and Hezbollah’s Hassan Nasrallah, who want him as prime minister but only on their terms, in a mixed government of political and independent personalities. Hariri would accept heading a new government, but with his own conditions, including independent technocratic ministers. Meanwhile, the country is facing a dangerous economic collapse. Central Bank governor Riad Salame is engaged in a struggle with the banks’ shareholders in a bid to get their money back into Lebanon.
Lebanon has received many warnings since September about taking measures to ensure the country’s economic and financial stability, but it was let down by the government. The youth in the streets can no longer wait for irresponsible politicians to kill their future. They have nothing to lose, they say, because nothing was given to them. So the question now is whether or not a new government will adopt the realistic road map put forward by the international community. And when? The protesters dream of a better future, with a new Lebanon away from Hezbollah and its partners.
- Randa Takieddine is a Paris-based Lebanese journalist who headed Al-Hayat’s bureau in France for 30 years. She has covered France’s relations with the Middle East through the terms of four presidents.