DAVOS: Lebanon’s new government needs to win the confidence of the parliament, the confidence of the people, and the confidence of the international community, former Lebanese foreign minister Gebran Bassil said at the World Economic Forum in Davos on Thursday.
In a much-anticipated panel discussion plagued by controversy and uncertainty since its announcement, Bassil appeared despite a social media campaign and petition calling for his invitation to be rescinded.
He said the country was in its current position because of 30 years of “wrong policies.”
“The responsibility of the Lebanese government is to take the challenge of changing and reforming the system,” he said. “What is happening now in the streets is very positive because it is creating a dynamic for change.”
Joining Bassil for the discussion — “The return of Arab Unrest” — were Dutch Minister for Foreign Trade and Development Cooperation Sigrid Kaag and Damac Properties chairman Hussein Sajwani.
Kaag spoke of the importance of Lebanon as a “regional public good in a volatile region” saying the country has “so much to offer.” However, she added, “It is so painful to see a model of consensual democracy turn away to provide a disservice.
“One should not need wasta,” she continued, referring to the Arabic word for influence and/or bribery. “Wasta is a total sign of poverty, whereby only if you have means, access, and influence, you are someone.”
Panel moderator, CNBC anchor Hadley Gamble, did not hold back when questioning the former foreign minister, repeatedly reminding him of his infamous quote at Davos last year, when he said, “Washington and London should maybe learn from Lebanon how to run a country without a budget.”
Bassil’s spokesperson May Khreish had earlier accused Gamble of being part of “a Zionist campaign against Bassil's participation in the conference.”
“We have a malfunctioning system because of confessionalism. What the young people are calling for in the streets is a secular system whereby citizens are equal,” Bassil said.
He also expressed his hope that Lebanon’s current crisis could be resolved in-house. “Let the people of the region decide what they want,” he said. “Don’t dictate to them foreign recipes. Let the international community help not dictate.
“Lebanon is still a democracy — we have a high level of freedom and they are encouraged to keep this force of change, and when they decide we don’t represent them anymore, we step aside,” he continued, referring to former Prime Minister Saad Hariri’s government resigning a few weeks after the start of the protests in October 2019.
Damac boss Sajwani suggested that the general public in the region did not treat democracy with appropriate gravitas. “The challenge we have in the Middle East is that people are not being professional when it comes to elections,” he said. “They are going by emotions and religion, which is totally unacceptable.”
Kaag praised the determination and persistence of Lebanon's youth. “The specter of possible civil war will not work anymore (as a deterrent for protests),” she said.
Lebanon’s new coalition government was formed on Tuesday after almost 100 days of widespread public protests about the state of the economy, corruption, high unemployment and a lack of basic services. The majority of its 20 ministers are aligned with Hezbollah and its allies.