Lebanon reforms lacking despite PM Hassan Diab’s positivity
Lebanese Prime Minister Hassan Diab last week celebrated the first 100 days of his government with a self-promoting speech claiming that it had hit 97 percent of its targets. In a striking, self-satisfied description of his achievements, he compared the Lebanon of before he became prime minister to a sinking ship unable to be saved. He claimed that, 10 days after his government got the vote of confidence from parliament, the country was saved due to his courage in refusing to honor its debt and his ability to deal with the spread of the coronavirus disease.
The reality, however, is totally different. Lebanon is on the brink of a popular explosion. The economic and social situation is disastrous and the corruption continues as before. Powerful politicians supporting the government, from Hezbollah and its Christian allies in the party of President Michel Aoun and his son-in-law Gebran Bassil, are continuing with business as usual, not realizing that the Lebanese people last year took to the streets to ask all of them to leave the political scene due to their corruption and failures.
France’s officials are very worried about the Lebanese situation. They are adamant they want to help Lebanon because they still think it is a strategic country for them, but more than one French official believes that an explosion there would result in a very dangerous escalation in the region. French diplomacy pushed the Diab government to negotiate with the International Monetary Fund (IMF) and Paris’s ambassador to Lebanon urged it to make rapid progress in those talks.
The Lebanese situation is being very closely followed by French diplomats and politicians, from President Emmanuel Macron and his advisers to Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire. The top diplomats in France have a deep knowledge of the Lebanese internal situation, as well as that of the region. The chief diplomat among Macron’s advisers is a former ambassador to Lebanon and No. 2 in the French Embassy in Riyadh. The diplomat heading French external intelligence also happens to be a former ambassador to Lebanon. The disastrous current situation in Lebanon is very well analyzed and followed in France — to the extent that it has become a tradition that senior American officials consult with them on matters concerning the country.
French diplomats want to offer some positive approval of the Diab government’s plan, but they always add that they want to see action.
Officially, the French diplomats want to offer some positive approval of the Diab government’s plan, but they always add that they want to see action and that no checks will be written if reforms are not carried out and corruption is tackled. They see that, so far, no reforms have been taken — despite Diab’s self-congratulatory speech.
French officials reckon that the Diab government has been too slow to act. The prime minister has so far been unable to reform the electricity sector, which is a main contributor to the country’s budget deficit, or even appoint someone to manage the sector. He has also been unable to reach an internal political agreement on the number of power plants needed. Bassil, the ghost president and also the behind-the-scenes power minister in the Diab government, is insisting on having a third power plant in his region of Batroun, whereas a majority in the government voted for only two.
Foreign diplomats insist on the necessity of having a unified Lebanese stand if they are to support and implement the IMF plan that aims to save Lebanon. They also stress the much-needed fight against corruption. However, the key question one can ask is how can Hezbollah and its allies accept this fight against corruption when the state’s revenues from ports and border crossings are controlled by Hezbollah, whose Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah recently stated that its control can be carried out in coordination with Syria’s regime — its partner in corruption?
US dollars were leaving Lebanese banks, thanks to Hezbollah agents and their Christian allies, to finance Bashar Assad and his Iranian protectors. So the banks were financing the failed Lebanese state and the criminal Syrian regime, while Lebanese depositors had their savings taken hostage. Bassil was traveling the world trying to convince the Lebanese diaspora to invest in Lebanon: A safe haven that he and his Hezbollah allies have turned into hell.
The main conditions of any IMF plan to save Lebanon would be transparency and anti-corruption measures. The fear is that any corruption investigation would become a tool for Hezbollah and its allies, who control the Justice Ministry, to go after their political enemies and anyone who is against the Hezbollah-Iran-Syria alliance.
Corruption has characterized the state and the political class generally, and it has peaked with Hezbollah’s increasing power. But corruption is entangled in such a way that all of the accused politicians have a lot against each other. So how is the corrupt state going to open its books to the IMF, which is ready to help if an agreement is concluded? Also, with the ongoing worldwide health, social and economic hardships caused by the coronavirus, it might be mission impossible for France to convince the international community to help Lebanon if no real reform is carried out.
- Randa Takieddine is a Lebanese journalist based in France.