Lebanon’s hopes that Prime Minister designate Saad Hariri would finally succeed in forming a cabinet to lead the country out of the predicament it finds itself was laid to rest this month.
A gloomy faced Hariri stood at the pulpit of the Lebanese presidential palace, after he met with President Aoun, and announced that his efforts to introduce a new cabinet lineup and formula were dashed.
According to Hariri, the proposal was rejected by Aoun, who in turn introduced an unworkable counter-proposal, contradicting the French President Emmanuel Macron’s initiative. It was the opposite of what the Lebanese political elite had ostensibly agreed to.
Following his unpleasant one-to-one with Aoun, Hariri supplied the media with a list of the cabinet lineup he put forward. It consisted of 17 highly competent and independent individuals, and him as Premier, giving the impression that if Aoun facilitated its formation it would indeed put Lebanon back on its proper course towards political and economic recovery. This assumption, not to say delusion, led to the disappointment of the already frustrated Lebanese people who believed a Hariri-led cabinet can end their suffering.
The collapse of the Hariri-Aoun talks not only reaffirmed the incompetence of the Lebanese political establishment but also came as yet another reminder of Iran’s hegemony over the country. Through its armed proxy, Hezbollah never misses a chance to eat away at the last remaining semblance of political normalcy.
While Hezbollah Secretary-General Hassan Nasrallah repeatedly affirms his party’s full commitment to supporting Hariri’s quest to form the next government, it was he who guaranteed Hariri’s failure. In his last speech, a few days before Hariri met Aoun, Nasrallah urged Hariri to form a government and to break the deadlock by expanding his proposed 18-member lineup to 20. Nasrallah urged Hariri to grant President Aoun and Hezbollah’s next presidential nominee, and Aoun’s son-in-law Gebran Bassil, the blocking third which would allow him to veto any decision made from the supposedly reformed cabinet.
Nasrallah went further by suggesting that Hariri change his cabinet roster of those technocrats with no official affiliation to any side, and move towards a hybrid of a techno-political one that includes experts and politicians. This again undermines Macron’s initiative.
If one chooses to disregard Hezbollah and Iran’s refusal to allow Lebanon’s political process to normalize, or Aoun and Hariri’s trivial bickering over what they see as constitutional prerogatives, would a new cabinet change or delay the Lebanese unstoppable descent into oblivion?
While governance and reform entail competent individuals which Hariri selected to serve in his cabinet, and most probably to hide behind. Given the course of events and the wheeling and dealing from the political establishment, change will not come at the hands of the same politicians that caused the current meltdown of the economy and the government system. For a cabinet to succeed it will have to adopt a series of harsh structural reforms starting with the lifting of all subsidies and officially float the currency.
Neither Hariri nor his fellow sectarian oligarchs would sanction such reforms, especially with the parliamentary elections officially slated for May 2022 an election which they hope to win either by hook or crook, using populism, intimidation and bribery.
Lebanon, as it stands, is unsalvageable, not merely because the international community and the Arab Gulf states are no longer willing to offer a bailout, but because the Lebanese themselves have not yet reached the realization that change and reform require them to cut their umbilical cord with the client list and the lords that operate it.
The recent collapse of the latest cabinet proposal, and the drama it entailed, reconfirms the obvious fact, that Aoun, Hariri and Nasrallah along with other members of Lebanon’s political elite are incorrigible and their dedication to senseless feuding and their appetite for power is only matched by their refusal to assume collective responsibility and to stop blaming each other.
More importantly, if the change is to come to Lebanon it will not be theatrical or instantaneous but it will require patience and above all the conversion and channeling of Lebanon’s so-called legendry resilience. This has turned into a curse trying to rebuild a completely new government system and one that opens the door for Lebanon to enter the 21st century.