Lebanon’s Elites Continue Political Deadlock

Lovingly described as “the Titanic minus the orchestra” by French Foreign Minister Le Drian, Lebanon’s failure to form a new administration almost a year after the dissolution of its last, has drawn international ire—and sharp one-liners. During a recent visit by Le Drian to Beirut, he commented that Lebanon’s political class is in the midst of carrying out a collective suicide. To say that Lebanon is in trouble, would be an understatement.

The past couple of years have not been kind to Lebanon. After its port explosion last year prompted the stepping down of Prime Minister Hariri’s government, the political factions have yet to come together to form a new government. This deadlock has exacerbated an already bad situation due to the COVID-19 pandemic, not to mention Lebanon’s economic meltdown—seeing its currency lose up to 90% of its value.

And on top of this, last year saw unprecedented protests across the country, all demanding the removal of the hereditary political class that has ruled for decades. Corruption and deadlock are hallmarks of Lebanon’s political institutions due to these problems.

The French have been spearheading the global effort to reform Lebanon’s government, having given financial aid last year under the stipulation that the political factions would come together. French President Macron has already visited twice: during his last visit in September, he confidently stated there would be a new government in two weeks’ time.

Last month, France instituted travel restrictions on certain individuals that it deemed were getting in the way of forming a new government, either due to corruption or factionalism. With Le Drian’s latest visit, France threatened to impose even stricter restrictions, going as far as to say that the EU would follow suit. The names of these individuals haven’t been released. However, it’s widely believed that Prime Minister al-Hariri’s failure is due in part to President Michel Aoun’s son-in-law, Gebran Bassil. According to The Arab Weekly, Bassil did everything in his power to secure a meeting with Le Drian—which he failed to do, as the French Minister kept him off the schedule through his two-day visit.

While the political elite of Lebanon continue to squabble and the political elite of France give their two cents in the form of flashy one-liners, it is the Lebanese people who are subject to food insecurity and dire living conditions. The Lebanese are the victims of a state violence stemming from inaction and corruption, rather than bullets and tear gas. Far more insidious than open violence, the pressure put on Lebanon by the French is a step in the right direction. However, this does have to be backed by the larger international community if it is to prove effective.

At this point, the political will to create a better Lebanon will never come from decade-long entrenched elites— that much is obvious. The safeguarding of the next election is paramount if Lebanon is to fight itself out of this spiral— an election that can’t come soon enough. Only a government that offers a people-centered political imagination will give the Lebanese the future they deserve.