Saad Hariri has resigned as Lebanon’s designated prime minister after a tenure of nine months. Hariri assumed the position with the intention of determining what the next government will look like following the resignation of Prime Minister Hassan Diab following the Beirut explosion. Citing continuous disagreements about the composition of the cabinet, he took many by surprise with his abrupt departure after a 20 minute meeting with President Michel Aoun. Lebanon is currently facing increasing disorder and economic insecurity as the odds of securing aid from the International Monetary Fund plummet.
President Aoun’s office released a statement claiming that Hariri refused to make any of the changes suggested by Aoun’s cabinet and that the president had turned down Hariri’s proposal to meet again the next day. Aoun explained, “What is the use of one extra day if the door of discussion is closed?”. However, Hariri reportedly presented different cabinets to Aoun on 18 different occasions. Jean-Yves Le Drian, the French Minister for Europe and Foreign Affairs, commented, “there is a total inability of the Lebanese leaders to find a solution to the crisis that they have created”. The effects are clear: a Lebanese art curator told Foreign Policy’s Anchal Vohra, “The dollar has climbed to 20,700 [Lebanese Lira]. What will happen now? What will happen? My heart is sinking.”
This deadlock, and Lebanon’s civil unrest, is a symptom of the corruption of the country’s political elite. The power-sharing structure of Lebanon is based on the three popular religions in the country. As agreed in the 1989 Taif Accord, which was reached after Lebanon’s civil war, roles in the government are divided between the Christian, Sunni, and Shiite populations. The Prime Minister must be Sunni, the President must be Christian and the Speaker of the Parliament a Shiite. Hariri reportedly suggested that a non-partisan 24-person cabinet be equally comprised of members of the three religions, but President Aoun refused and suggested more than eight Christian ministries. This would give disproportionate veto power to the Christian members. This suggestion from President Aoun violates a constitutional amendment that prohibits the president from infringing on this process.
Aoun’s attempt to secure more power for the Christian ministries is of a clientelist nature – his son-in-law, former Foreign Minister and current Member of Parliament Gebran Bassil, hopes that giving more Christians cabinet positions will ensure re-election. Yet while the elites play a game of political chess, the people of Lebanon suffer. While many Lebanese are selling personal items on Facebook to make ends meet, Bassil, who has been targeted by US sanctions for corruption since 2020, stays wealthy. As long as corrupt political elites wield power, it is unlikely that the government will serve its people, which should be the primary focus of those in government positions.
Deadlocks such as these are not uncommon in Lebanese politics. Due to a lack of civil institutions, the country does not have a national party system, which further deepens sectarian divides. Clientelist relationships arise and countries giving aid meddle in Lebanon’s political affairs. This has produced a repetitious feedback loop of political deadlocks and skewed loyalties. The tax system has long been working against the lower and middle classes, and focus on the business sector has caused economic disparities to widen.
Financial assistance from Western powers and the International Monetary Fund is contingent upon the establishment of a new, effective government. Lebanon’s financial contraction, that is causing overwhelming economic insecurity, is extremely unlikely to be solved without external assistance. In 2019, mass protests called for the resignation of the corrupt political elites. This disorder was then heightened by the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, causing the economy to crash and leaving still more Lebanese unemployed. The Beirut explosion in August 2020, caused by a lack of government oversight, destroyed many important resources. In recent months the country has periodically lost power for up to 22 hours a day. The Lebanese currency has dropped 90% in the last two years, and dropped still further within minutes of Hariri’s resignation. Hariri might’ve exclaimed “God help this country” after resigning, but those on the ground with power must not abandon Lebanon.
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