“the priority is to rebuild institutions other than the army and especially Hezbollah”

According to the World Bank’s own admission, Lebanon is experiencing one of the worst economic crises in the world since 1850: currency devalued by nearly 90%, vertiginous price spikes, serious shortages and unprecedented impoverishment of the population. An economic slump coupled with a political crisis, illustrated by a power vacuum since the mandate of President Michel Aoun expired on October 31, 2022.

The International Monetary Fund is calling for the necessary reforms to be put in place to unlock much-needed aid to the country. It is with this in mind that French, American, Saudi, Qatari and Egyptian representatives are meeting this Monday, February 6 in Paris. With the objective of finding ways to encourage the Lebanese political class to organize a way out of the crisis. For “the Obs”, the political scientist Antoine Basbous, director of the Observatory of Arab Countries, deciphers the situation.

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In what economic situation is Lebanon currently?

Antoine Basbous A UN report said that in 150 years, never has a country fallen so quickly and so economically. Today, 80% of the population lives below the poverty line [contre moins de 30 % avant la crise]. Members of the diaspora finance their relatives still in Lebanon, which allows the country to hang on a thread. But there are no more medicines, including in public and private hospitals. Lebanon has contracted all diseases at once! It is indescribable as an economic, financial and social situation.

How is the daily life of the Lebanese?

Today, the salary of an army soldier is equivalent to 20 dollars per month. The teachers don’t have enough gas to go to work. Fuel has become so expensive that people can no longer afford a full tank. And there is almost no public transport. If people want to telecommute, they can’t because there’s no electricity. At the food level, the prices on the labels waltz from morning to evening, so much the fall of the currency is vertiginous.

People who have passports or another nationality have left or are looking to leave. Especially after the titanic explosion at the port of Beirut in August 2020 and the judicial investigation still hampered [dernier rebondissement, fin janvier : le juge indépendant Tarek Bitar, qui a rouvert l’enquête suspendue pendant treize mois en raison d’énormes pressions politiques, a été poursuivi pour « insubordination » en raison de sa détermination à faire toute la lumière sur ce drame qui a fait plus de 215 morts et dévasté des quartiers entiers de la capitale]. For the others, there have been no more passports for six months because the State no longer has the means to have them produced! Last fall, Lebanese were discovered in sunken boats in the Mediterranean. It was the first time that I saw them selling their property, getting into debt, pledging their future and that of their parents to escape.

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Why can’t the political parties come to an agreement to get out of the crisis?

It is a country run by a politico-financial mafia under the orders of Hezbollah [mouvement chiite pro-iranien]. Lebanon has become an Iranian colony where strategic affairs (borders, war, peace, control of institutions) are managed by Hezbollah in exchange for sharing stolen wealth. It was the deal that left the country without a worthy political ruling class.

The pulse of October 2019 [la « thawra » (révolution), le soulèvement populaire pour réclamer le départ de la classe politique] was very strong. It was a patriotic, transnational and cross-community flame. But, on the one hand, confessional clientelism served as a bulwark and, on the other hand, the violent repression of Hezbollah and Amal [autre parti chiite] broke that momentum. The political class maintains the status quo because it lacks nothing. And these mafia leaders know that if there is a rule of law in Lebanon, they will all end up in prison or in exile.

Can a meeting like the one in Paris on Monday help find a way out of this crisis?

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The priority is to rebuild and restore the institutions, starting with the election of a President of the Republic, the backbone of the institutions. Provided that he is not a proxy for Hezbollah, like the outgoing president [Michel Aoun]. This meeting in Paris will push the Lebanese and regional actors to converge towards the election of a president. I think they will push the army chief’s candidacy [le général Joseph Aoun, sans lien de parenté avec Michel Aoun]which will be accepted by the main players, including Hezbollah.

Lebanon must seek a “new formula of governance”. The authorities inherited from independence in 1943, and retouched since, have brought the country to hell and made it a colony under the orders of successive foreign powers. In the meantime, I believe that the seriously ill Lebanese will not be able to recover if he is not entrusted to an international administration which restores the rule of law by banishing the reign of the Hezbollah militia. The current weakening of Iran may allow this perspective.

The country went into default in March 2020, but no one wants to lend to it until reform begins. The international community no longer wants to support broken promises and donate money immediately snapped up by the country’s leaders.

Source : Nouvelobs

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