The new Lebanese cabinet under Prime Minister Hassan Diab is potentially Lebanon’s last chance to avoid its ongoing total economic and political meltdown.
But, based on the advanced copy of the Diab cabinet’s ministerial platform which was leaked to the public on Sunday, the new government’s course of action will only make Lebanon’s predicament far worse.
The 17-page document, which will be presented to the Lebanese parliament next week for its vote of confidence, warns of very rough challenges ahead and promises key reforms including in the judicial and fiscal sectors. It also promises to tackle corruption, which the statement considers crucial to regaining the confidence of the people.
Theoretically, these reforms are not only possible, but unavoidable, if Lebanon wishes to stop the hemorrhaging of the Lebanese economy and to bring Lebanon back into the international community which has saved the country and its political class in the past. The Diab cabinet plan of actions also promises to follow through on the CEDRE international conference in support of Lebanon’s development and reforms, which pledged $11 billion of aid and loans once structural reforms are implemented.
However, it is immediately clear that the new decree lacks original ideas. When reading the decree, the first impression the reader gets is the fact that Diab and his team have simply copied and pasted much of what the World Bank and other international agencies have requested from successive Lebanese governments, specifically targeting poverty, CEDRE, investment plans, procurement laws.
The Diab’s cabinet plagiarism of these points is a clear attempt to appease the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund which Diab and his backers seem to think is the only way for Lebanon to move forward. Diab, like a hardworking yet unimaginative pupil, has used a list of keywords to charm and appease the International Support Group for Lebanon.
But these promises clash with the stark reality that Diab and his cabinet owe their appointment to the Lebanese ruling establishment, which simply will not allow anyone to touch its privileges and its access to resources that are essential to running its clientelist network.
Moreover, despite its outward appearance of reform, Diab’s platform hides in plain sight the ruling establishment’s clear intention to continue its unheeded corruption and exploitation of the energy sector. With over $36 billion of debt incurred from the electricity sector, Diab’s cabinet confirmed its intention to tackle this thorny and complex sector, and set forth a number of steps to finally bring Lebanon out of darkness. Yet despite these words, Diab’s reform plan still went forward and sinisterly adopted the “master plan” passed by the previous cabinet of Saad Hariri, an act which on its own enough to expose the direction Diab wishes to take moving forward.
This electricity “master plan,” which is nothing short of a heist of over $7 billion, proposes to survey and assess the entire sector in about two weeks – an outlandish task to achieve given the duration. It proposes to then report back to the cabinet, which in turn will oversee the bidding process, a clear breach of proper governance.
Yet the most alarming aspect of the Diab plan of action is its blatant disregard to the issue of Hezbollah and Iran’s hegemony over the Lebanese state. This issue is directly responsible for the Arabian Gulf countries’ apprehension and ultimate withdrawal from the Lebanese scene, and the consequent loss of Lebanon’s financial safety net. On the issue of Hezbollah’s weapons, Diab simply saw it fit to adopt the same line used by the previous cabinet as well, affirming “the right of every Lebanese citizen, [men and women] to resist the Israel occupation and fend off its attacks and liberate the land.” These seemingly innocent words are a carte blanche for Hezbollah to justify its hijacking of the state and its ability declaration of war and peace.
Why would Diab and Hezbollah believe that this childish pretext – and their continuing strategy of sweeping the issue under the rug – would work, considering it failed last time with Hariri?
Given that the chances of economic reform are highly unlikely, Diab will be left to go to the Arabian Gulf states for funds – something he has declared he intends to do once his cabinet is confirmed in Parliament. But anyone who still thinks that Diab has a chance of saving Lebanon needs to read his cabinet’s statement and think: Why would the Arabian Gulf states, and indeed even European countries, accept bankrolling a Hezbollah-controlled corrupt state?
Lebanon is in the midst of a political crisis, not just an economic one. The only way for it to regain its economic sanity is to reform as a state and ultimately oppose Hezbollah’s hegemony and its regional, imperial incursions. The Arabian Gulf countries have perhaps wrongfully turned a blind eye to the corruption of the Lebanese elites, but they will not turn a blind eye when it comes to Hezbollah using Lebanon as a base to attack them and their interests.
There are some naïve or desperate enough to believe that the Diab cabinet’s beauty pageant response to this political crisis might actually bear fruit. They should remember that this is not the first time the political elite has promised salvation, and nor will it be the last time they try to hide behind people like Prime Minister Hassan Diab and his strawman cabinet.
Makram Rabah is a lecturer at the American University of Beirut, Department of History.