The new Lebanese government headed by Najib Mikati was finally approved by parliament last week. This is Lebanon’s first government since the Cabinet of former Prime Minister Hassan Diab was dissolved following the explosion that hit Beirut Port in August last year. The resulting governmental vacuum has led to tremendous challenges at the political, economic, social, security, and health levels.
Despite the accomplishment of forming a new government, it seems that Lebanon’s crises are extremely complicated and cannot be resolved through the current systematic compromises or satisfactorily addressed through Mikati’s vision.
In short, Lebanon is witnessing a state of total collapse, for which Hezbollah bears primary responsibility; although this blame is also shared by the remaining Lebanese political forces because of their silence and passiveness.
The country’s situation is no different — apart from maybe even worse — than some of the regional countries that are experiencing civil wars and foreign interventions, such as Syria.
In Lebanon, there has been an unprecedented decline in the value of the national currency, along with deteriorating living conditions and a severe shortage of essential utilities, particularly water and electricity — all worsened by rampant corruption. Due to the deepening crises in the country, which have resulted from the aforementioned factors, the Lebanese people have embarked on what has become known as a third wave of emigration. It is reminiscent of the two previous large emigration waves in the country’s history, which occurred during the First World War and the Lebanese Civil War of 1975 to 1990.
To end the domestic deterioration and prevent Lebanon from sliding into the abyss, Mikati’s new government hopes to attract external support, primarily foreign aid, to implement an urgent economic and social recovery plan. Mikati is working to convince Arab and Gulf states, in particular, to provide support to save Lebanon. He claims that his government will distance itself from the “policy of siding with certain axes.”
Mikati’s government faces immense challenges that will impede its ability to deliver. The formula imposed by Hezbollah — under which the new government has been established — is the principal root cause of Lebanon’s crises and its present impasse.
Even though Mikati’s government consists of technocrats, most of them reflect the country’s sectarian equation. The make-up of the Lebanese Parliament means that no radical solutions can be advanced, as the passage of vital executive decisions remains liable to be blocked at any time by Hezbollah. As a result, the government’s decisions will ultimately reflect the trade-offs agreed outside of its official headquarters.
Hezbollah’s outlook and goals impede any Lebanese government from performing its duties. The group, which presents itself as a state within a state due to its possession of a weapons arsenal equal to that of Lebanon’s national army, continues to drag the country into external conflicts in Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Moreover, Hezbollah’s vast range of transboundary networks, which engage in various legal and illegal activities, continues to work in its interests.
Meanwhile, the party’s economic role has mushroomed regionally and globally, in blatant violation of Lebanon’s sovereignty. It has also hijacked the country’s national decision-making process and the government’s sovereignty for the sake of Iran. This makes Lebanon more vulnerable to sanctions and isolation.
The party has hijacked the country’s national decision-making process and the government’s sovereignty for the sake of Iran.
Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami
In addition to making Lebanon, its resources and its weapons a pawn in Iran’s regional expansionist project, Hezbollah has also isolated the country from its Arab sphere — depriving it of Arab and Gulf support, with the previous economic and military assistance from the Gulf states and Saudi Arabia, in particular, suspended. Lebanon has also become isolated internationally, with several world powers making their help conditional on the country addressing its internal political imbalance.
In the face of these challenges, it seems highly improbable that Mikati’s government has the will or ability to change the reality imposed on Lebanon by Hezbollah and Iran, even though it may want to do so. This was evident in Mikati’s remarks regarding the entry of Iranian fuel into Lebanon, which he condemned as a breach of the country’s sovereignty.
It also seems that Mikati, rather than addressing the original and root causes of the current crises, has chosen to plead with donors — especially the Gulf states — to help save Lebanon. The Gulf states have solid and compelling justifications for not responding positively to Mikati’s call for assistance and may simply refuse to do so. Throughout history, for example, no country has matched Saudi Arabia in terms of its solidarity and support for Lebanon during its repeated crises and multiple wars. As well as brokering the Taif Agreement that ended the civil war, the Kingdom also gave Lebanon nearly $70 billion between 1990 and 2015.
Furthermore, following the disastrous Beirut Port explosion, the Kingdom immediately launched an airlift to offer emergency relief to the Lebanese people. In addition to these examples, the Kingdom has always been the firefighter extinguishing the fires ignited in Lebanon by Iran and Hezbollah.
Saudi Arabia is still keen on Lebanon’s integrity and upholding its sovereignty. But how can the Kingdom help those actors who have destroyed Lebanon, violated its social contract, risked the country’s future, and drawn it into a hostile alliance against itself and the Gulf states?
How can the Lebanese government be granted assistance while Hezbollah — Iran’s regional proxy — is engaging in conflicts on multiple fronts and contributing to the destruction of Syria, Iraq and Yemen?
Are Iran’s militias in Iraq not testament to the fact that providing help is a rather fruitless act, as governments do not exercise full sovereignty or have complete control over national decision-making?
In light of the above, any assistance donated to Lebanon is channeled in numerous negative directions, rather than the right one. Neither the Lebanese state nor the Lebanese people benefit. In fact, it is Iran’s militias that benefit, strengthening Tehran and its influence.
There is no doubt that Arab countries need Lebanon as much as Lebanon needs them — especially in light of the crises gripping the region and the turmoil and chaos that Iran is spreading and seeking to normalize under the pretext of an illusionary project for domination. Yet there is no question that saving Lebanon from the clutches of Iran’s project requires an internal Lebanese consensus that will facilitate the process of restoring the country’s sovereignty, rather than leaving a vacuum for Hezbollah to exploit once again.
It is essential for Mikati’s government to exercise full authority and sovereignty over Lebanon’s resources and weapons, and to abandon the alliance imposed on it by Hezbollah, in order for the country to once again assume its proud stature, guided by its history and geography, rather than by Iran’s national interests. When this happens, Lebanon and the Lebanese people will find all the help and support they might wish for from Saudi Arabia and other brotherly Arab countries, enabling Lebanon to restore its stability and strength.
• Dr. Mohammed Al-Sulami