The solution for Lebanon has to come from outside
Two years ago, French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian addressed Lebanon’s leaders with the words: “Help us to help you.” This is the recurring theme that is still heard today in Western and Arab capitals — the Lebanese have to get their act together in order for the international community to help them. They need to agree among themselves and realize that either they reform or the country is going into an abyss.
However, Lebanon’s politicians do not seem to be agreeing among themselves. Therefore, a comprehensive solution has to come from outside and be forced on the politicians by the international community; otherwise the country is doomed.
Everyone seems to be sitting and waiting. But waiting for a solution is like waiting for Godot; no political party will make any initiative, because there is no initiative that can save the country and also allow the existing political parties to win or at least preserve the gains they have accumulated over the years.
In Beirut, there is a very strange mood. People are either numb or in denial, or maybe both. They are looking to adapt to scarcity while trying to make the best of what they have. There has been a small rebound in the economy during the summer because of the inflow of expatriates. Hence, the perception is one of restaurants being full and malls crowded with shoppers. But the reality is that half of the country’s government departments are not functioning and the other half might follow suit in the next few months.
In the meantime, the international community is insisting on the International Monetary Fund giving a $3 billion loan to the country over five years. Although there has been no real audit of the central bank, having talked to specialists, they estimate that about $20 billion has been wasted on subsidies in the last two and a half years. They also estimate that Lebanon has about $10 billion left and, once that is gone, there will be nothing more to spend and the country will be officially broke. That would mean the state disintegrating, as there will be no funds to pay the salaries of public servants, the police and the army.
But no one seems to be acknowledging the grim reality that, in a few months, the country will be broke. So far, half of the government’s departments are dysfunctional. Badly paid employees are not going to their offices. Even renewing a passport today can take more than a year if one applies online and does not have help from someone influential inside the general security service.
Maronite Patriarch Bechara Boutros Al-Rahi has repeatedly asked for an international conference to decide the fate of Lebanon along the lines of the Taif Agreement because the Lebanese cannot agree among themselves. He has been attacked by many who argue that Lebanon is a sovereign nation and should decide its own fate. But he has been proven right. The Lebanese politicians cannot find a solution to save the country as they are more worried about preserving their privileges. The forces of change did not prove able to bring about much change.
Ironically, studies by the Arab Barometer have found that 90 percent of the Lebanese are not happy with the existing sectarian system and 90 percent think the political class is corrupt, but in the May elections 90 percent of voters backed the same sectarian political leaders. Hence, change — if it is to take place — will happen very slowly, but Lebanon cannot afford to wait. In addition to the prospect of bankruptcy, Lebanon faces the prospects of both an internal conflict and external confrontation.
Internally, amid the dire economic conditions, hate speech against Syrian refugees has reached an unprecedented pitch. However, the refugees cannot go back to Syria, as Bashar Assad does not want them, and they cannot go to Europe, as the West can no longer absorb them. Tensions have soared and a small incident could trigger a confrontation that might not be easily contained.
The Lebanese politicians cannot find a solution to save the country as they are more worried about preserving their privileges.
Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib
Externally, Israel is very worried about Hezbollah’s arsenal of precision-guided weapons. It will be a matter of time and of intelligence gathering before Israel decides whether to strike Hezbollah’s weapons warehouses, which would lead to an all-out war.
Lebanon today has many decisions to make: The presidency, the premiership, the IMF package and the maritime demarcation with Israel. The international community cannot wait for Lebanese politicians to do what is best for their country; nor can they expect the Lebanese people, who are struggling to secure the minimum of electricity, water, fuel and bread for their daily survival, to organize and uproot the regime.
The solution has to come from outside — it has to be comprehensive, and it should be coupled with coercive measures to pressure the Lebanese politicians to apply it. The package should include a solution, as well as the sanctions stick.
Two years ago, Le Drian warned that Lebanon was at risk of disappearing. If the international community does not act quickly and the country is left to its corrupt politicians, it will only be a matter of time before this prophecy becomes a reality.
- Dr. Dania Koleilat Khatib is a specialist in US-Arab relations with a focus on lobbying. She is co-founder of the Research Center for Cooperation and Peace Building, a Lebanese NGO focused on Track II.