Blog - January 21, 2020

On Tuesday, Lebanon’s caretaker Finance Minister Ali Hassan Khalil optimistically tweeted that a new government would be formed “within hours.” Whether or not Khalil’s forecast bears out Beirut’s ongoing political dysfunction will not end with the formation of a new government.

Hassan Diab vowed to quickly form a government but seasoned observers of Lebanese politics were skeptical.  As is now becoming the norm for virtually any decision taken by Beirut – including electing a president, passing a budget, economic reforms, or cabinet formation – the process drags on endlessly, circuitously arriving at an outcome by way of several fits and starts. Optimistic pronouncements are quickly dashed on the rocks of Lebanon’s horse-trading style of political compromise.

True to form, a week ago, the formation of a new government seemed imminent after an ostensibly successful meeting between Diab and Parliament Speaker Nabih Berri. Predictably, that progress barely lasted a day before a petty political rivalry set matters back to square one. In this latest instance (and there have been others before it) it was two March 8 factions – the Free Patriotic Movement (FPM) and the Marada Movement, who have been virtual enemies since their respective leaders contested the presidency in 2016 – who caused the failure. Naturally, each blamed the other.  Even Hezbollah, normally Lebanon’s chief obstructionist, is now reportedly frustrated with its allies. 

Meanwhile, as Lebanon’s political class continues its “bickering-as-usual” approach to politics, the country is falling apart. Quite literally, in some cases, long-neglected infrastructure merely gives way to the forces of nature, leading to floods, sinkholes, and even cemeteries collapsing.

It’s almost become a cliché to mention that Beirut is going through an unprecedented financial crisis. Lebanon’s foreign donors have cut off its funding until a government is formed and implements economic reforms. Saad Hariri had to beg them for basic aid, with only Egypt responding to the call. People are losing jobs in record numbers; the price of basic foodstuffs is skyrocketing; the Lebanese pound’s peg to the dollar has evaporated, though Central Bank Governor Riadh Salameh refuses to admit it; and – to make matters worse – Lebanon is heading towards a total power and internet blackout within the next two months. As this dire outcome becomes more imminent, Lebanon’s three-month uprising against this inept political class is turning increasingly violent.

That matters would reach such a bleak outcome has been obvious for months. But no one in Lebanon’s political class could be bothered to look past their petty partisan interests to do anything about it. Even if Khalil’s optimism proves true, that attitude will remain unchanged and will continue to affect even the most critical of future government decisions, including passing a budget.

Walking out of a meeting of the FPM-led “Strong Lebanon” parliamentary bloc, reporters asked Salim Jreissati – who Lebanon’s latest permutation of political musical chairs branded as “State Minister for Presidential Affairs” – whether a government would be formed soon. He responded with one word – “Inshallah.” From Jreissati, or any Lebanese politician, this “Inshallah” shouldn’t be understood in the literal sense of the word – that they’re trying their hardest, but the ultimate outcome is beyond their control. To the contrary, the formation of a new Lebanese government is being held up entirely by special interests—the customary squabbling of Lebanon’s political class, attempting to maximize their personal and partisan benefits while the country heads towards an abyss. And such a dynamic will continue to plague Beirut even if Hassan Diab forms a government.

David Daoud is a research analyst at United Against Nuclear Iran (UANI).