A panel of experts warned on Wednesday that Lebanon was facing a growing economic crisis that stemmed from government corruption and that demanded immediate attention from the international community, led by the US.
American Task Force on Lebanon (ATFL) president, Ed Gabriel, and Lebanese analyst and Arab News Gulf regional manager, Sarah Sfeir, said that once the corruption was addressed, it would be easier to deal with Lebanon’s dire economic crisis and move toward democratic elections next spring.
The analysts said that as the international community moved forward on nuclear negotiations with Iran – which sponsors Hezbollah’s political and military actions – it must ensure that Lebanon was not sacrificed to Iranian interests.
Gabriel said: “We are negotiating with Iran right now. We have got to make sure that Lebanon does not get thrown under the bus. We have a very good relationship with the head of the negotiating team, Rob Malley. He has given us assurances it is not about Lebanon and Lebanon will not be hurt in this process.
“We are all concerned. The negotiations could be about helping Lebanon, not hurting it.
“So, I think that is one thing we have to watch very closely and be suspect of. Yes, they will deal with nuclearization first, but (US Secretary of State) Tony Blinken said the deal has to be longer and stronger. What he meant by that is we have to deal with missile technology in the region as well as terrorism proxies. So, we have to hold them to their word in that regard.”
Gabriel said once the region was secured, the international community must find safe havens for Syrian refugees to be allowed to return to their homes. But the analysts pointed out that regional security depended on the ability to root out corruption in Lebanon’s government.
“I think all roads lead to corruption and bad governance … I would call it No. 1, addressing the needs of the poorest of the poor in Lebanon immediately,” Gabriel added.
“That is medical, that’s food aid. That is over 50 percent poverty rate and almost half of that is the poorest of the poor who can’t even feed themselves. This is a serious issue.
“The World Bank has called Lebanon possibly one of the third worst economic crises since the mid-19th century. That is just amazing. We have got to wake up to what is going on.”
The ATFL head said that Lebanon’s government must “step aside” to end the corruption and bring about a reform that would energize world support and he added that curbing Hezbollah could only come through continuing to strengthen the Lebanese Armed Forces.
“We have got to get this government to step aside in favor of a reformist government. The IMF (International Monetary Fund) is ready and willing to engage in a multi-billion (dollars) job to fix Lebanon as quickly as possible.
“But they have to have someone they can talk to and trust. And the international community is not going to blink first. They are not going to say OK, let’s talk to these guys. They are firm in saying we had it with you. We want a government that addresses the needs of the people.”
Gabriel noted that the ATFL had praised the June 25 announcement by French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian and Blinken to jointly bring pressure on Lebanese leaders to take actions to relieve the country’s multiple crises.
In a joint statement, Le Drian said: “We have decided to act together to put pressure on those responsible. We know who they are.” And Blinken said: “We need to see real leadership in Beirut.”
Gabriel and Sfeir said the US must play a leadership role with other foreign countries to achieve a common plan to help Lebanon, increase humanitarian aid through nonprofit organizations so the money was not lost to the corrupt government, and continue to support and strengthen the Lebanese Armed Forces as a counterforce to Hezbollah.
Sfeir said: “Lebanon faces so many challenges on different levels. We have health sector challenges. We have the educational sector challenges with doctors and teachers fleeing the country. We have economic challenges.
“But what I want to highlight is that all these challenges have one root. It is the political challenge we are facing. Because once we fix the political issue that we have, I guess it would be easy to implement the reforms and fix all the other challenges. We can address technically all the other challenges easily. It is just about having people who want to work for the country, not with foreign agendas.”
Gabriel and Sfeir pointed out that if corruption could be eliminated, Lebanon would see more financial support from the international community as well as easing of the country’s economic turmoil. It would also help reduce tensions in the region and have a chain reaction to result in improvements in Syria and Yemen.
But Sfeir noted that the majority of aid sent into Lebanon had gone to government supporters, “not to the people in need.”
She added: “Today it is really tough to live in Lebanon. We elected people to save us, to do reform. Unfortunately, they became the problem. Now we face a ruling class that won’t give up shares for the people.”
Sfeir said money needed to go directly to the people, not through Lebanon’s government.
“I take this opportunity to thank Saudi Arabia for sending humanitarian aid through the King Salman relief center (KSrelief). They gave it to the people personally. It didn’t go to the government otherwise it wouldn’t have reached the needy,” Sfeir added.
Gabriel said: “It’s a shame. Think about it. These people were supposedly elected to take care of the people of Lebanon, but they only seem to care about their own selves.”
Gabriel and Sfeir made their comments during an appearance on “The Ray Hanania Radio Show” broadcast live in Detroit on WNZK AM 690 and in Washington, D.C. on WDMV AM 700. The show is also streamed live at Facebook.com/ArabNews.
For more information on “The Ray Hanania Radio Show” visit ArabNews.com/RayRadioShow.