UN Chief’s Lebanon visit was all talk and no action

Makram Rabah
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For UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres his four-day trip to Lebanon was one last chance to save this small nation from its never-ending descent into chaos, but the conclusion of his Lebanese sojourn will have the opposite effect. As the head of the UN’s trip to Lebanon, many of his activities ended up as simple public relations stunts. They only empowered the ruling establishment who are responsible for the country’s abysmal predicament.

To add insult to injury, Guterres visited the site of the Beirut port explosion to honor its fallen victims but still called for unity between the Lebanese political leaders. He made it a point to meet with the heads of state and many others who stand accused of this terrible crime and the ongoing impeding investigation.

Guterres is not a novice in the affairs of the Lebanese political system. Through his previous position as the High Commissioner for Refugees he had visited Lebanon several times and was fully aware of that his recent calls for reform and solidarity fell on deaf ears.

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While Guterres was making his imperial tour of Lebanon, blocking the busy rainy streets of Beirut in the process, the political elite were negotiating a new deal that would thwart the efforts of uncovering what the cause of the Beirut port blast was, and discover those responsible. This was a catastrophic incident that killed hundreds of innocent people and destroyed a city once the envy of many.

While the UN chief asked for timely and transparent parliamentary elections slated for next spring and empower the judiciary and the state to continue its investigation, the speaker of the parliament Nabih Berri along with President Michael Aoun and his son-in-law Gebran Bassil were trying to cut a deal. They were negotiating a proposition that included postponing the elections and foiling the intensive port investigation.

The Aoun-Berri horse-trade dictated that both sides agreed to see the constitutional council revoke the parliament’s decision to allow expatriates voting rights for the entire 128 members. This would instead be limited to vote for six seats each representing one of the continents instead.

Gebran Bassil who is a current lawmaker who leads the biggest bloc in parliament and is a son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, speaks to journalists at the presidential palace, in Baabda east of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. The U.S. treasury slapped sanctions Friday, Nov. 6, on Lebanon's ex-foreign minister and a leading Christian political ally of the Hezbollah group, according to the Treasury's website. (AP)
Gebran Bassil who is a current lawmaker who leads the biggest bloc in parliament and is a son-in-law of President Michel Aoun, speaks to journalists at the presidential palace, in Baabda east of Beirut, Lebanon, Thursday, Oct. 22, 2020. The U.S. treasury slapped sanctions Friday, Nov. 6, on Lebanon's ex-foreign minister and a leading Christian political ally of the Hezbollah group, according to the Treasury's website. (AP)

In return the concerned parties would sanction the removal of the special investigator into the port blast Tarek Bitar. This would be accompanied by the removal of several senior members of the judiciary and security officials, along with the governor of the central bank.

The first demand to remove the special investigator is one that has led Hezbollah and its allies to boycott the Mikati cabinet until Bitar is removed. If this were to happen the fix would be in and the investigation’s conclusions would help draw attention away from the terrorist group as a guilty party involved in the blast.

Yet at the same time neither Berri nor Hezbollah wanted to empower Gebran Bassil whose aspiration to become Lebanon’s next president is matched only by his unlimited corruption which earned him a designation on the US Treasury’s sanctions list.

Despite all of these talks the deal fell through as Prime Minister Najib Mikati refused to go along with this preposterous scheme. This was not because of its immorality but because it would have had dire repercussions for his own standing in the country, and in front of his main patron French President Emmanuel Macron.

As a result, the constitutional council refrained from issuing a decision on the matter claiming that it had failed to meet after its quorum was not met because those members answering to Amal and Hezbollah failed to show up.

Given the wheeling-dealing Lebanese political culture and the elite that operate it, the head of the UN and his empty promises of reform and support for the people means nothing when its only to the ruling establishment’s benefit.

The UN chief needs to practice what he preaches and stop being gullible. The worst perception of his role in Lebanon is one of a willing accomplice to the crimes being perpetuated against the people and refugees in the country.

Guterres’s visit should have been properly spent reminding the world that Lebanon is a country under occupation by Hezbollah and supported by Iran and a political elite that will stop at nothing to stay in power.

Above all, ethically Guterres should have called out the same heads of the Lebanese state he met from what was a PR stunt. What remains of any semblance of Lebanon’s statehood is in the dirt, but little was expected from a person being paid to normalize the abnormal.

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Disclaimer: Views expressed by writers in this section are their own and do not reflect Al Arabiya English's point-of-view.
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