Nicosia [Cyprus], October 19 (Aryavarth): After three decades from the end of a bloody civil war that lasted for 15 years, and after a massive explosion in the port of Beirut last August that left more than 200 people dead, wounded thousands and damaged more than 70,000 homes and buildings, is the corrupt political system of Lebanon and its self-serving politicians hell-bent on destroying their country?
Before 1970 many Europeans regarded Lebanon as the “Switzerland of the East” and Beirut as the “Paris of the Middle East”, but all this came to an abrupt end when one of the most complex civil wars in the world broke out and Maronite Christians, Shia and Sunni Moslems, Druze, Palestinians and the Hezbollah, clashed with each other or formed temporary alliances.
The civil war which lasted for 15 years -from 1975 to 1990- and ruined the country caused the death of close to 115,000 people. Unfortunately, however, the “Taef Agreement”, which ended the war, reinforced the existing differences among the numerous political factions and accentuated sectarianism.
The civil war was followed by the Israeli occupation and Syrian tutelage and then political assassinations, including that of former Prime Minister Rafiq Hariri in 2005, for which a member of Hezbollah was recently convicted by an international court. A climate of instability prevailed in the tiny country of 6.5 million people, who saw their efforts to rebuild their country come to nothing.
The only positive development was the withdrawal of Syria from the internal affairs of Lebanon. In 2006 there was a new war with Israel, while the country was flooded with refugees as a result of the war in Syria.
In recent years the Lebanese people took to the streets protesting against the sharp fall in their standard of living, the steep devaluation of the Lebanese currency, the quadrupling of prices of essentials, the paralysis of the political system and rampant cronyism, while the Police were always sent to disperse the demonstrators.
Last October Prime Minister Saad Hariri resigned his post, following mass demonstrations demanding a radical change in the corrupt and incompetent political system. The various factions making up the political system have been unable to agree on the formation of a new government, while the government is disintegrating fast and is facing a big problem with the COVID-19 pandemic.
French President Emmanuel Macron, who visited Lebanon twice after the huge blast in Beirut’s port, has sent a road map to Lebanese politicians outlining political and financial reforms needed to unlock foreign aid and rescue the country from multiple crises including an economic meltdown.
He urged for the formation of a non-partisan government that would take swift steps to tackle the rampant corruption and implement the reforms needed to trigger the billions of dollars of international aid pledged to fix Lebanon’s economy which has been crushed by a mountain of debt. At that time all Lebanese political parties approved the plan and promised to facilitate a care-taker government.
Mustafa Adib, former ambassador to Berlin, was picked to form a new government on August 31, but quit after trying for a month to line up a new, non- partisan government.
The main reason for his failure is attributed to the demand by the two Shiite groups Amal and Hezbollah that they name the finance minister and some other ministers. Lebanese President Michael Aoun ominously warned on 21 September: “Lebanon is going to Hell if the situation remains as it is.” On October 15, another deadline was missed in the effort form a new government and nobody can say when will become possible.
The only ray of hope in this gloomy situation is the fact that for the first time in 30 years talks started on Wednesday in the southernmost Lebanese border town of Naqoura to delineate the maritime border between Israel and Lebanon, under United Nations auspices and US mediation. Some people see the possibility of finding huge hydrocarbons deposits on the seabed as a life-saver for Lebanon, while the political parties seem to admit reluctantly that the road to economic prosperity runs with talks with Israel.
Sami Nader, the director of the Levant Institute for Strategic Studies, said the parties picked the US-mediated negotiations over the French initiative in an attempt to stave off more sanctions by the Trump administration until US elections in November.
“Lebanon now stands at a crossroad”, Makram Rabah, a lecturer at the American University of Beirut pointed out in recent article in Al Arabiya. “It must find a way to adapt to the rapid regional transformation taking place or Lebanon will be rendered inconsequential. It is one thing for Lebanon to refuse to ride the normalization train, but it another to refuse to jump off the train that Iran and Hezbollah are driving, bringing Lebanon further into oblivion. Beirut’s refusal to readjust its policy towards Israel is neither smart nor constructive, and claiming neutrality while actually serving as a pawn in Iran’s regional strategy is a losing game.”
Nobody can foretell if talks with Israel will be successful, given that a lot of people in Lebanon fear that the numerous bickering Lebanese parties will be once more unable to agree and they appear to be hell-bent on destroying their country.