Lebanon stuck on intensive care ward without any power
To know who is responsible for the Beirut port explosion, a year on from the disaster, is a Lebanese right. And to know who is obstructing the formation of a Lebanese government is also a necessity, as the country’s doomsday clock ticks to just milliseconds from midnight.
As the port explosion investigation has appointed a new judge, his work has become muddled in give and take over parliamentary rules, procedures and immunity. It goes to the heart of the Lebanese legal, legislative and military so-called institutions.
Similarly, the nomination of a new prime minister and his efforts to form a government will fail thanks to the local entrapment. This will demonstrate to the Lebanese people and the world that the country’s institutions are churning out all the necessary roadblocks, while knowing that such a government used to be formed through a neighborly nod, a regional wink or an international thumbs-up. I doubt any have matured to see consensus emerging now.
This small country on the eastern Mediterranean coast is no stranger to explosions. What the Lebanese themselves did not inflict on each other during years of civil and uncivil war, other actors including Palestinian militants, Israel, Syria, Iran and even the USS New Jersey warship had the honor of pounding Lebanon themselves.
Last year’s explosion of thousands of tons of ammonium nitrate, stored at the port in the heart of Beirut by “unknown” persons, was heard as far away as Cyprus and was classified as one of the largest non-nuclear explosions in history. It disfigured the Lebanese capital, left 200 dead and thousands injured and, as of the first anniversary on Wednesday, not one culprit has been apprehended, put to trial or jailed.
Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati, like his predecessor Saad Hariri, is unlikely to achieve much even if he gets the job
The Lebanese people are used to witnessing “unknown” acts of violence, assassinations and battles. It took an international tribunal with a tight legal remit more than 15 years to finally implicate one person in the assassination of former Prime Minister Rafik Hariri in 2005, but without even mentioning that he was a member of the Iran-backed Hezbollah.
I doubt the Lebanese and the international community would expect any incoming prime minister to get the widely discredited political class to agree to endorse another international tribunal after putting aside their differences.
The indications are that no government is likely to see the light of day any time soon, and even if it does it would not be supported even nominally to reform anything, since any such steps would go against the raison d’etre of the country’s political class, which is the root cause of Lebanon’s demise.
Prime Minister-designate Najib Mikati, like his predecessor Saad Hariri, is unlikely to achieve much even if he gets the job. Lebanon’s fate is hanging on the domestic balance of power — between those who are for and those who are against Hezbollah — as well as regionally between Syria, Iran and their allies on the one hand and the core Arab countries such as Egypt, Saudi Arabia and the UAE on the other. Beyond that, many believe that any forthcoming agreement between Iran and the P5+1 world powers to resuscitate the nuclear deal could delay or facilitate the formation of a new government in Beirut.
Listening to Mikati state that he would have international backing if he were to form a working Cabinet is soothing, but in the land of snow-capped mountains and cedars, even miracles have become too scared to tread. Any magic wand entrusted to Mikati or anyone else will also have to deal with a tail-spinning economy, a bankrupt state, a ravaged health sector (both pre and post-coronavirus disease) and, above all, dwindling trust in its political class domestically and internationally.
The work of any incoming executive is not likely to be made easy, as the reforms demanded by donor states in the wake of the Beirut port explosion are yet to materialize, just like after previous calls made by the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund when the country defaulted on paying its debts in 2019.
The EU’s announcement that it is ready to impose sanctions on the ruling elite will complicate the job of Mikati, but will not perturb Lebanon’s political class, as they have been bent on undermining democracy and the rule of law since long before the port explosion or the sliding of the economy to lows unwitnessed since the 1850s. As a result, the banking sector has blocked access to people’s deposits and the country’s currency has continued its freefall, losing at least 90 percent of its value in just two years.
Considering this backdrop, I am amazed when commentators state that people will punish their leaders at next year’s elections or that this or that initiative is likely to bring fuel to activate the dying power grid, restock pharmacy shelves or provide petrol to run the children to school.
One hopes all that will remain a possibility against all odds. But a closer look at Lebanon’s internal divides, which no one wants to address, the entrenched discord that has plagued the regional actors that have influence over the country, and the disappearance of any moral or immoral compass on the international level as a result of a non-alignment of objectives between the no-longer-dominant West and the more-assertive East, such as China and Russia, leave it in an intensive care ward without power. It is left running on batteries as the nurses queue for a visa to migrate after the doctors found jobs abroad to feed and educate their children because that prospect dwindled in Lebanon following the Beirut port explosion.
• Mohamed Chebaro is a British-Lebanese journalist with more than 25 years’ experience covering war, terrorism, defense, current affairs and diplomacy. He is also a media consultant and trainer.