What’s the point of Lebanon going to the UN General Assembly?

Lebanon has been at the forefront of two of the biggest crises the world is facing today - refugees and terrorism

Tarek Ali Ahmad

Published: Updated:

The 71st United Nations General Assembly (UNGA) kicked off this week as the leaders of 193 countries meet in New York to tackle global problems - as well as the problems of their own countries. Lebanon, lacking an elected head of state, is being represented by Prime Minister Tammam Salam who has oft been compared to a lame-duck who avoids conflict and shouting matches in parliament, regardless of the implications, by only issuing weak threats to resign.

Lebanon has been at the forefront of two of the biggest crises the world is facing today - refugees and terrorism. With the country bordering war-torn Syria on its northern and eastern fronts, a spillover of extremist fighters and the influx of refugees, the situation is escalating. Villages near the frontier have been plagued by sporadic bombings at the hands of ISIS, while makeshift camps have been set up harboring around 1.5 million stranded refugees who have been left homeless and helpless by the fighting ravaging their home country.

Such are the external problems that are affecting the Middle Eastern country. As for the internal conflicts, the seat of the head of state has been left vacant for nearly three years, with the last president - Michel Sleiman - having left office in May 2014. The government is being pulled apart by sectarian strife and nine political parties hold seats in a 128-seat parliament. Hezbollah has ramped up its influence from its stronghold in southern Lebanon, despite being classified as a terrorist group by various foreign states and despite its control of a militia.

Refugees, ISIS and political paralysis

During last year’s UNGA, PM Salam took to the stage and addressed heads of state on the same matters that will be addressed at this year’s General Assembly: refugees, terrorism, Israeli occupation and the political paralysis of the country.

“It will be the same, more or less, as each year recently: refugees, aid, regional stability, extremist threats, especially in north Lebanon and … south Lebanon and Israeli threats,” political analyst Karim Makdisi told Al Arabiya English.

Salam will urge donor countries to continue their support of the Lebanese people who are housing one third of their population in refugees – exhausting their resources. He will speak of the constant terror at the border between Lebanon and Syria, where extremist militants have been seeping through and orchestrating terrorist operations and he will address the lack of political quorum in electing a head of state whose seat has been vacant for almost three years now.

“The speech itself is just a framework to outline the key international issues of most concern to Lebanon but otherwise the real diplomacy is conducted on the side,” Makdisi, who is also an associate professor of international politics at the American University of Beirut, said.

“Basically Lebanon will get a pat on the back, be lectured about the need to elect a president and parliament, receive pledges on aid and political support for Syrian refugees and cooperation on halting terrorist acts,” he continued.

The issues have been addressed on the world stage before but analysts fear that Western interests will trump the needs of Lebanon, a country plagued by a crucial yet neglected trash crisis.

“I suspect Lebanon, as with many similar countries, will receive only that support that is of direct Western interest: tightening security and stemming refugee flows to Europe,” Makdisi said.

“The rest of Lebanon’s catastrophic situation in terms of poverty, unemployment, water and electricity cuts, environmental disaster and so forth is entirely the direct responsibility and fault of a corrupt and parasitic political and financial elite in Lebanon and no General Assembly speech will change that.”

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