Almost three months into the popular uprising in Lebanon, all eyes are now on the recently nominated Prime Minister Hassan Diab – who was chosen by Lebanese Hezbollah - and the main question seem to be whether he is capable of forming a new government or not. The political scene is busy with behind the door consultations and meetings to make sure an agreement between concerned political parties is reached. However, for both the street and the international community, this is all pointless. Whether Diab succeeds in forming a government or not, the main problem – that is the near economic collapse and bankruptcy of the state – will not be resolved anytime soon.
The main reason for the absence of any positive resolution is the fact Diab – or any other prime minister that the current authorities would chose – is not going to gain the trust of the streets or the international community. Without that trust, Lebanon will not be able to receive the financial bailout needed to save it from collapse.
In early 2020, it will become clearer that Lebanon is headed to become a failed state, with all what this entails in terms of financial disasters, humanitarian catastrophes and security threats. This seems the only conceivable path forward; therefore, it is not naïve to ask the question: don’t the people in power understand the implications of holding on to power?
The people in power are many, including all sectarian leaders, Speaker of the House Nabih Berri, President Michel Aoun, and his son-in-law Gebran Bassil - all Hezbollah allies, which says a lot about who is really the authority in Lebanon today. Back in 2018, when Hezbollah celebrated its victory in the parliamentary elections, and moved ahead with a Hezbollah-majority government, its Iranian sponsors probably did not fathom that this victory will entail such challenges.
For Iran and Hezbollah today, no matter what they do, they will have to compromise or lose. If they let go of their power and allow a capable and credible government to take over, they will lose their valued access to state institutions. If they hold on to power – as it seems they are doing with Diab – they will have to deal with the economic challenges that will cost them whatever popular support they have left, or privileges within the state that they enjoy.
What Hezbollah hasn’t realized yet is that the revolution – although it hasn’t toppled anything besides the former government – has achieved two main goals: one, the realization of a vibrant non-sectarian popular rhetoric that will no longer accept the sectarian system that has been dominating for the past hundred years, and two, exposure of Hezbollah’s failure at governing.
For three decades, Hezbollah has attained power in Lebanon by protecting sectarian leaders and making deals with corrupt politicians. What Hezbollah forgot to do is come up with a socio-economic vision for Lebanon beyond the military strategies and power games. Hezbollah failed and the Lebanese people – including the Shia community – today understand this. With the economic difficulties and international pressure, food on the table is becoming more important than fighting Israel or occupying Syria, Iraq and Yemen. Hezbollah will be challenged with these shifting priorities.
So how is Hezbollah going to deal with these challenges in 2020?
On the short term, Hezbollah only wants to move forward with a new government – whether under Diab or Hariri in case Diab failed – and see how the international community reacts. Hezbollah hopes that the international community will be more concerned with instability in Lebanon and will rush to financially aid whatever government is formed.
On the long-term, Hezbollah hopes that the Democratic Party in the US will win the presidential elections in 2020 and sanctions on Iran will be eased. That way, money will flood back to Hezbollah, and its own financial crisis, that is costing the party support and resources to manage the crisis, will not be a problem.
However, in the improbable scenario that these two wishes were granted, Hezbollah will still have to deal with the fact that the Lebanese people are no longer buying the resistance rhetoric. Therefore, even if Hezbollah manages to miraculously recover from the economic and international challenges, the Lebanese no longer trust the party and its corrupt allies. Hezbollah cannot win the next parliamentary elections, form a government, or maintain access to state institutions, without its allies.
As all eyes are today on the current process of government formation, the Lebanese people and the international community need to stress the parliamentary elections in order for Lebanon to move to the next phase. Calling for early elections – based on a non-sectarian and modern electoral law – should be the principal demand in 2020. This is the only way to translate the street’s rhetoric into a new representative parliament, which will produce a new credible government and president.
Hanin Ghaddar is the inaugural Friedmann Visiting Fellow at The Washington Institute's Geduld Program on Arab Politics, where she focuses on Shia politics throughout the Levant. She tweets @haningdr.