A Rescue Government or a Lebanese Somalia?

Reading Time: 6 minutes

Lebanon was still drowning in the disaster of the explosion that destroyed the port and half of the capital Beirut, when Prime Minister designate Mustafa Adib, tasked with forming the new government, went to Baabda to meet with President Michel Aoun and discuss his delicate mission.

However, it soon became clear that everything said during the two visits of French President Emmanuel Macron about the need to form a “government of mission” to lift Lebanon out of its fatal crisis has been put aside in Baabda in the talks with Aoun and the representatives of the nine political parties.

This is because Aoun seemed to want a government that emulates that of Hassan Diab, which was formed per Hezbollah’s list of conditions. He proposed forming an expanded government of 22-24 ministers and composed of specialist politicians, which totally contradicts everything that had been said about a small government of experts that would be distant from politics.

It also contradicts Mustafa Adib’s conviction that the government of mission should not exceed 14 ministers, and that they should all distant from the political elite so that the cabinet can actually initiate the resurgence process and regain the international confidence that previous governments had destroyed.

It seemed that all that was said to Macron about a “government of mission”, which would immediately start fighting the corruption that has bankrupted the state, was merely a reiteration of the empty promises that people have heard many times and were never implemented.

This is in spite of the series of disasters that Lebanon is facing that is not limited to the travesty at the port, the coronavirus pandemic, the deepening economic crisis that left 50 percent of the Lebanese living below the poverty line, the negotiations with the International Monetary Fund coming to a halt due to the state’s inability to agree on a unified number for its enormous losses of course, or drowning in a people’s revolution against the entire corrupt and rotten political class, as had been said by ministers in the resigned government. It also includes more dangerous and critical disastrous problems; the countries of the world’s despair from the cancer of political corruption and the blind alignment with the axis of resistance; which has closed all doors on Lebanon, be they Arab, Gulf or and international…

The horrific explosion at the port brought back international interest, especially that of France, in the tragic situation, but what is unbelievable is that some have not woken up to the gravity of what happened or the need to turn the black page. They did not take the time to understand what the French President repeated during his two visits, that if real reform doesn’t start, with a government from outside the political jungle, there will be no leniency whatsoever towards the entire political elite, which shall be subjected to a series of painful sanctions, and that he is coordinating with US President Donald Trump to make these sanctions more effective!

It was astounding that some understood that David Schenker’s visit to Beirut aimed to block the French initiative. They did not understand that when Macron threatens sanctions, he knows that France cannot act alone. He is betting on the thick American stick that affects Iran and Hezbollah and threatens the party’s allies in Lebanon. The story here does not stop at Lebanon’s share of the Caesar Act alone; rather, it goes as far as threatening to implement the provisions of the Magnitsky Act on Lebanon, which amounts to imposing penalties for money laundering.

Macron left having agreed that the government of mission must be formed within 15 days, but the formation ship quickly collided with the same archipelago of complications, that is, an expanded cabinet with political dimensions, the apparent purpose of which is to try to preserve the obstructive element that the “Doha Agreement” had introduced to the “Taif Accord” which amounts to the country’s constitution.

This element had been imposed through the superiority of power and is manifested in the so-called “obstructing third,” which is maintained by Aoun’s alliance with the Shiite duo, dropping everything said about the “Baabda Declaration” and the “dissociation” policy and closed the door on all promises Aoun made about discussing the “defense strategy.”

Over the past ten days, the PM-designate tried to keep his efforts quiet while talking about his insistence on forming a small government of experts of 14 ministers remains. And, Aoun’s sources kept talking about an expanded technocrat-political government. They are not hiding that Aoun is resentful of the discreet way the new cabinet’s formation is being managed, far from Baabda and the opinion of the parliamentary Free Patriotic Movement’s bloc, while French ambassador Bruno Fucher, was actively mediating between the two sides.

A few days ago, the same sources in Baabda said that Aoun rejects what is being reported about France’s endeavors to assign the portfolios which had been exclusively assigned to his allies, namely finance, energy, communications and foreign affairs, without asking for his input, despite his support for the French initiative and his pledge to Macron to help form the “government of mission”!

With the declarations that the Shiite duo is hanging on to the ministry of finance, and after all everything Baabda’s sources repeated about a technocrat-political government, things seemed to be going in a vicious circle. It was reported that the Director-General of the French Intelligence Service and former Ambassador to Lebanon Bernard Emie, visited Beirut a few days ago to try to push the formation. Still, diplomatic sources say that his efforts were hindered by the same obstacles!

It may be necessary to clarify here that Mustafa Adib is the relative of an advisor in the Elysee Palace and has a close relationship with Emie, who played a role in proposing his name to the former Sunni prime ministers who named him on the eve of consultations!

In face of the obstacles impeding the government formation process, reports are circulating that the prime minister-designate insists on a mini-government of specialists. Either Aoun accepts it or Adib packs his bags, without even apologizing for not forming the government, which could leave a prolonged governmental vacuum at a time when the country may descend to complete chaos due to economic decline and hunger creeping in.

Last Tuesday, it was clear that Washington’s announcement of sanctions against the two former ministers, Ali Hassan Khalil, who represents the Amal Movement, and Yusuf Finyanus of the Marada Movement and a close associate of former MP Suleiman Franjieh, who is allied with Hezbollah, was a US mobilization to remove the obstacles facing the formation of a government of specialists, which the Lebanese are betting on to turn the black political page in Lebanon.

With the shock announcement of the sanctions on the two former ministers, the US State Department said that Washington is interested in the formation of a government capable of responding to the demands of the Lebanese people. Assistant Secretary of State David Schenker repeated his suggestion that there will be a series of US sanctions that will also be announced within days targeting the supporters of Hezbollah. “We will hold them accountable,” he said, which implies that there is an attempt to dismantle Aoun’s alliance with the Shiite duo, especially since the name of his son-in-law, Gebran Bassil, may be at the top of the sanctions list.

Schenker clearly specified the task of the “government of mission” which the French and Americans are clearly in agreement on is, when he said that the new cabient must adopt the reform program and implement it. He said that it should hold accountable those who are not transparent or accountable. It must be a government dedicated to fighting corruption and uphold the principle of dissociation. It should be a government that puts regional politics aside.

Schenker’s words constitute a reiteration of the “government of mission’s” role as Macron defined it in detail. That is why the question arises: will the sequential US sanctions help remove the obstacles facing the PM-designate’s mission, and coordination here between Paris and Washington is apparent, or will it complicate his task, when the March 8 coalition, led by Hezbollah, insists on its position on the government, with the Amal Movement keeping the Ministry of Finance, the Marada keeping the Transportation and Public Works, and the Free Patriotic Movement holding onto the Ministry of Energy, whose control of that ministry cost Lebanon half of its public debt, that is, more than 50 billion dollars, and Hezbollah in the Ministry of Health, as a response to the US sanctions, based on the well-known Iranian bets on the upcoming US elections, which could change the scene despite the firm French position?

Next Tuesday, the 15-day deadline that had been set to form the government expires. Will Adib proceed with the formation of the mission government and will Aoun accept it, or will he, as seems likely, reject it? Will Adib come out to an apology, but rather to a long retreat, and plunge Aoun’s rule and the country into a longer void? Or does everyone head to a situation of total chaos that is not limited to starvation only but with increasingly intense escalation, which may return the hungry country to the barricades?

Source: aawsat

Rajeh Khoury