‘Limited change’ is most Lebanese can expect warns Paul Salem, Middle East Institute president

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Updated 05 August 2021

‘Limited change’ is most Lebanese can expect warns Paul Salem, Middle East Institute president

‘Limited change’ is most Lebanese can expect warns Paul Salem, Middle East Institute president

Confronted by its worst economic crisis in decades and still reeling from last year’s massive explosion at its main port, Lebanon faces a long road to recovery and its people should only expect “limited change” even from elections, a veteran Lebanese American analyst predicted on Wednesday.

With the Lebanese government failing to investigate the real causes of the massive Beirut seaport blast that claimed the lives of more than 200 people one year ago on Aug. 4, Paul Salem, president of the Middle East Institute, has warned the world not to expect too much change.

Salem said that although parliamentary and presidential elections were scheduled for next year, and pressure was increasing from international powers such as France and the US, it was currently “a terrible time” for Lebanon and he expected “a long slog” ahead for the nation.

“Lebanon will remain crippled as long as there is an independent army, Hezbollah, that belongs to another country that has its entire security defense and political game. But things need not be as bad as they are now,” Salem added during a Wednesday appearance on The Ray Hanania Radio Show, sponsored by Arab News on the US Arab Radio Network.

“There are some things that can be changed and some things that don’t seem possible to be changed. What is changeable is there are a number of politicians, including the current president and his party, which in the last elections got a majority in the Christian seats. There are other politicians who were elected and who are deeply mired in corruption.”

Salem noted that one year into the current crisis, “the ruling politicians, if you want to call them that, have done nothing.”

He pointed out that a new government had not been formed, that a proper investigation had not taken place into the Beirut explosion that many allege involved a weapons cache of ammonium nitrate used by Iran-backed Hezbollah in its worldwide network of violence, and that the Lebanese government was working with Hezbollah.

“The government, and Hezbollah behind them, because Hezbollah dominates the government. Its president is their ally or their client. The current caretaker prime minister is their ally or client. The speaker of parliament is as well. The government has prevented a serious investigation,” Salem said, adding that elections put the current government in power and could also bring about change.

“Nobody from the government has taken accountability of responsibility although all of the documentation shows that they knew, and they have known it for years. But there has not been an investigation to get beyond conjecture and get to real evidence.”

He said Lebanon was going through “one of the worst periods in its modern history,” and the explosion had only worsened the economic crisis.

“That blast came in the midst of a complete economic banking monetary finance meltdown. It also came in the midst of a political uprising that started in October 2019, about a year before,” Salem added.

“The blast itself is a combination of two dysfunctions. One is largescale corruption and unaccountability of a government oligarchy that is in power without being held accountable for this or other set of crimes.

“The other dynamic is the existence of an independent, armed group, Hezbollah, in the country which operates its own security and defense operations in coordination with Tehran and Iran.”

Salem noted that Hezbollah “had a big presence in the ports” and that it was possible “that those explosive materials were being used, possibly, in Syria.”

He said government change in Lebanon was “going nowhere” despite the crises faced by the country.

“They hope for elections in the spring in order to make some sort of electoral difference. There is a lot of despair. Hezbollah is there through force of arms. No matter how many elections or how many protests you hold, we saw how fiercely they fought in Syria with Iran to defend the (Syrian President Bashar) Assad regime.

“People have no illusions that they will go away because of a protest or an election. Until you have real sovereignty in a country you really can’t begin building proper governments.

“Hezbollah is an armed force, is there by force, and there is very little that unarmed citizens can do about it,” Salem added.

Bolstered by international calls targeting corruption in Lebanon’s government, Lebanese protesters have one hope at this time, to turn toward the elections next year.

Salem pointed out that the current government of President Michel Aoun came to power by building an alliance with Hezbollah.

He said: “I think what we are looking toward now in this public protest movement indicates or should lead to a limited change within the country. It is not the case that everybody has to accept Hezbollah’s power, has to be allied with it.

“Those were political choices. I think some of those will change over the next year. Hezbollah will remain. But I think its current phase of pretty complete dominance might decline in a limited way, but it will remain an obstacle to real state building.”

The Ray Hanania Radio Show is broadcast every Wednesday morning at 8 a.m. EST on the US Arab Radio Network sponsored by Arab News on WNZK AM 690 radio in Detroit, and WDMV AM 700 radio in Washington, D.C. For more information on the radio show and its podcast archive, visit ArabNews.com.